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Surveys indicate that when new rules on expensing stock options take effect, many companies are likely to limit the number of employees who can receive equity compensation. But companies that reserve equity for executives are bound to suffer in the long run. Study after study proves that broad-based ownership, when done right, leads to higher productivity, lower workforce turnover, better recruits, and bigger profits. ‘Done right’ is the key. Here are the four most important factors in implementing a broad-based employee equity plan: A significant portion of the workforce–generally, most of the full-time people–must hold equity; employees must think the amounts they hold can significantly improve their financial prospects; managerial practices and policies must reinforce the plan; and employees must feel a true sense of company ownership. Those factors add up to an ownership culture in which employees’ interests are aligned with the company’s. The result is a workforce that is loyal, cooperative, and willing to go above and beyond to make the organization successful. A wide variety of companies have recorded exceptional business performance with the help of employee-ownership programs supported by management policies. The authors examine two: Science Applications International, a research and development contractor, and Scot Forge, which shapes metal and other materials for industrial machinery. At both companies, every employee with a year or so of service holds equity, and employees who stay on can accumulate a comfortable nest egg. Management’s sharing of financial information reinforces workers’ sense of ownership. So does the expectation that employees will accept the responsibilities of ownership. Workers with an ownership stake internalize their responsibilities and feel they have an obligation not only to management but to one another.

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