In Europe, employee representation at the board level is ubiquitous. Unionization is the norm, and workers routinely have some say in how companies conduct business. Here in the U.S., rank and file employees rarely get a seat at the table. Is it possible to change this situation on a personal level? Is there a way to influence the board, even if you aren’t a majority shareholder? What actions might you take to make a difference?
Influence Comes with Credibility
The first place to start in influencing the board is connecting with board members, and the first step is by investing in your company. You are not going to try to force change by purchasing a controlling interest in the company, but becoming a shareholder is critical to have any kind of conversation.
Read Your Proxy Statement!
Even a small investment will ensure that you have a vote on major decisions and about who gets to be on the board of directors. You’ll receive a proxy statement and be permitted to attend the annual shareholder’s meeting. Read the proxy statement in full to understand the company as seen from the perspective of other stock owners. Go to the annual meeting and use it as an opportunity to speak with shareholders one-on-one. Since the people who actually bother to attend these meetings tend to be the movers and shakers, you’ll find yourself in good company.
As you interact with other stockholders, keep the following tips in mind:
- Watch and learn so you fully understand the way shareholder meetings work before you chime in.
- Be aware that the boardroom is no place for airing personal grievances.
- Don’t use this venue to ambush upper management or the CEO with awkward questions, accusations, or complaints.
Consider Bringing a Resolution
Once you have owned $2000 in company stock for at least a year, you have the right to bring a resolution before the board and put it to a vote. Before you do this, take the time to make alliances. When you discuss changes that need to occur, focus the conversation on the things other shareholders care about such as increased productivity and profitability. You need to be viewed as an insider who can offer valuable perspective on ways to increase the effectiveness of the business.
In the Stimulus Consulting paper ‘Employees as Shareholders?’ Simon Telfer lists the five key things that matter to employees vs. stockholders. In his experience, there is no overlap at all for these two interest groups. That needs to change if you want to influence the board. You must have a goal in mind that is bigger than advancing your own career over the short term. Gather research and statistics to support any argument you make in favor of organizational, policy, or procedural changes.
While it might still appear like a monumental task to feel like you can make a change, if you want to influence the board, always remember that dividends speak louder than words.