Heather Braimbridge-Cox, President and CEO of Windings, Inc.
What specifically is the most important or surprising thing Windings has done to develop a culture of ownership? Promoting transparency. We’re an open book management company and we share our results openly, including the financials. We share our sales, sales by product, gross profits, and net profits every month and break these up by market segments and other important metrics so employee-owners can see how we’re trending towards our plan. If we’re ahead of plan we have a celebration, if we’re behind plan we ask for suggestions on how to improve. Our people understand when we’re doing well or not so well, and they can tie that to what we do every day, and they see how they individually can impact these numbers. We hold frequent roundtables with leadership to go over financials, and employee-owners are encouraged to bring questions to our “I Wish I Knew” meetings where our CEO answers their questions in depth. We promote and develop an atmosphere that leads people to believe “I have a voice and I need to use it for the betterment of the company.”
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in sharing financials with employee-owners? Too much information is never the right amount of information. Some people are intimidated by numbers and complex charts, so you need to break it down in a way that hits the high points and ensures that everyone can understand. Presenting to employee-owners is not the same as a board meeting; it doesn’t have to be formal. You can “first person” Heather Braimbridge-Cox, President and CEO of Windings, Inc. use different communication methods. For example we use a traffic light concept to indicate our performance— red is bad, if green we celebrate. We don’t provide our financials in written form because we don’t want them ending up in the wrong hands. The information is always presented verbally and visually within the company.
How do you approach your work differently now that you lead an employee-owned company? My work is more about laying out a straightforward proposition for employee-owners so they can attach that to everything they do. It’s more than putting a poster on the wall. We wanted to have a deeper motivation than just making money, and we wanted to answer the question “What is it that we’re doing here?” Our purpose/cause/passion is the glue that keep us together, and it heightens customer and employee engagement. Our purpose statement is “We help our customers succeed, our employees thrive, and our community prosper.” Every initiative is measured against this statement, and if it doesn’t adhere to our purpose, we won’t do it.
What’s your favorite thing about being at an employee-owned company? The culture of ownership! If you foster an ownership culture, you don’t have to be involved in every detail. At Windings, we like to call it “intrapreneurship”: thinking like an entrepreneur inside our own company. We give employee-owners the authority to self-direct, collaborate on complex problems, take initiative, and make on-the-spot decisions that are right for the customer and the company. In an ESOP company, it’s not just working for one, it’s working for ALL of us.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in leading an employee-owned company? My biggest challenge has been managing mindset differences across the generations in our workforce. Our young professionals come with great energy and want to take risks. They want to innovate, invest, and find ways to improve our process. The more mature employee-owners often take a more conservative view of spending and are focused on preserving their accounts and planning for retirement. We overcome these differences by tailoring communication to each group and by encouraging everyone to appreciate the value that each person brings to the team. We also emphasize how diversity is good for teams. A team is more effective with different perspectives, even if there are team members whose job is just to poke holes in the proposal.
How does being employee-owned manifest at Windings? We have a clearly defined set of shared values and expectations, and we commit to and speak openly about these values. We have incorporated these values and expected behaviors in hiring, onboarding processes, and in our annual performance reviews. To further promote our values, we have developed a platform for acknowledging good behaviors called the STAR (Special Thanks and Recognition) program. It’s not unusual to see an email broadcast with an employee praising another employee for exhibiting value-based behavior every single day at Windings. Each and every time they are commended, points are awarded from their immediate manager and other executives. Then they can trade their accumulated points in for gifts and awards.
How does employee ownership impact your business and bottom line? Employee ownership has supercharged our business in unique ways. For example, at Windings everyone is looking out for an opportunity to cut waste or to reduce rejects. As a result, we have seen our total cost of reject and rework go from 11% to 4.5% of our total product cost in the last two years, and it’s still trending down. That is a phenomenal success for a company manufacturing custom electric motors, generators, and related components. When our employee-owners know that they own the final results of our company, they are more responsible, and they will most often take the right direction.
Windings is a 100% ESOP company in New Ulm, Minnesota. It provides building components for custom contract motor manufacturers.
Published by the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) Employee Ownership Report May-June 2019