How We Crafted a Winning Communication Strategy for Employee Equity Programs
Equity compensation programs are complex and implementing them is a huge undertaking. There’s lawyers, consultants, financial modeling, and all sorts of due diligence across domestic and non-US functions.
It’s no wonder that communication with company employees often is left by the wayside during a rollout. Too many companies think that sending a few emails or maybe hosting a lunch n’ learn is going to check the box for communication. It won’t.
I’ve been in equity compensation (in one form or another) for over two decades now. Along with our team at CompIntelligence, we’ve learned a thing or two about communication plans and why they need to be thoughtful and expansive.
One of our major success stories on a challenging company included guiding a large multinational company to successfully implement their new stock plan vendor platform through a four month comprehensive communication campaign. With over 20 countries and multiple languages, my team and I leveraged every tool and strategy available to ensure success.
This included our email teasers, town halls, live webinars, an email alias for questions, and on-site vendor support. Regular follow-up webinars across time zones allowed employees to watch during their workday. I also had the stock plan vendor visit multiple U.S. locations to walk employees through navigating the platform, activating their accounts, and accepting their equity awards.
Here’s the playbook my team at CompIntelligence and myself have refined over the years for a winning communication strategy.
Addressing Initial Challenges and Objectives in Equity Program Communication
The primary challenge in communicating about employee equity programs lies in ensuring that employees with a diverse range of financial goals, cultural backgrounds, time zones, and languages spoken receive the message about the benefits.
Overcoming this challenge has proven to be the ultimate key for unlocking increased stock plan participation across the organizations I’ve worked with.
Ask the big questions:
Communicating your company equity plan is a broad goal. At the outset, I like to break it down with teams into smaller questions so that we tighten our focus.
Who’s the lead on communication?
It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often there is confusion around who’s the lead on a communication plan. HR is the most common team we see leading the charge, but come to common agreement on this instead of leaving it assumed. Find out what kind of resources your leads need, especially in the way of subject matter experts and written material. Remember, your lead communicators often won’t be your subject matter experts!
How do we define success?
Set some goal posts down to define what a win looks like. It might be employee participation, but not always. Restricted Stock Units (RSU’s), for example, are typically part of employee compensation and happen automatically.
Maybe success metrics like email opens or event attendance make the most sense. It might just be “KPAs” or activities that indicate you’ve taken as many reasonable steps as possible to educate the employees. I’ve also seen extensive surveying done to make sure employees feel educated at the end of a rollout or employee onboarding.
Whatever it is, agree on what success will look like at the end of your rollout or fiscal year.
Who’s eligible? What’s the target audience?
We focus our messaging on the target audience. Blasting a huge workforce with announcements about a program they don’t qualify for is a waste of their time. It’ll drag down your engagement metrics (which you may be using to define success). The more you hone in on your eligible employees the more you can tailor the message to them.
This must also include your global audience if you are a multinational company with employees based in different countries. Think about time zones and the investment needed for translation services.
Deciding on the timing and frequency of communication
This one is pretty self explanatory. Every company has their own cadence. This step is more about writing it down and using your communication frequency as a milestone for success. In my experience, you can skew towards over-communicating a bit. People get hundreds of notifications every day on their devices, most of which they probably ignore. While you don’t want to be notifying people several times a week, they might need two or three reminders to drive their attention. Try to keep it simple and concise.
Choosing the right avenues for communication
In the age of remote work, this one has become more important than ever. A few automated emails are not enough. Slack channels, company intranet, webinars, any channel your team communicates on should be accounted for in your messaging plan. This also includes dedicated events to teach your team about employee equity programs. Things like lunch-n-learns or dedicated time during your meetings. Try and think about passive events versus active events that require an employee to set aside time and show up.
Evaluating effectiveness and making necessary adjustments
One reason you set definitions of success is so you can respond if you’re not hitting your internal goals. Monthly or quarterly, you should review your KPI’s and see how your messaging is resonating.
Addressing Misunderstandings and Resistance
Employee equity programs are a huge win for your organization. If it’s not being perceived that way, it’s a communication problem! Early in the planning phase, identify the most likely objections or misunderstandings and address them clearly. Utilize employee focus groups that can read the materials first and provide additional feedback before the materials are distributed to the larger employee base. As you roll out your communication, have ways that employees can give feedback and take time to respond.
Adapting to Future Trends
As with everything in the business world, I see the evolution of technology playing a key role for increasing participation. This includes tools for communication, analytics, and support for participants at each phase. As of 2024, there is a general trend of increased activity in the IPO market in the United States, following a couple of years of limited activity.
I anticipate increasing rollout of stock plans within companies looking to attract the best talent, which means a commensurate increase in the need for effective communication. Particularly in the post-COVID landscape, companies are increasingly sourcing global talent, being competitive will be more important than ever.
Overall, a successful communication strategy for employee equity programs requires a deep understanding of the audience, clear objectives, a mix of effective tools and channels, and a commitment to continuous adaptation and improvement.
It's about creating a narrative that resonates with employees, educating them on the benefits, and engaging them in a way that aligns with their personal and professional aspirations.
For assistance in planning your equity compensation strategy to improve employee participation and understanding, contact CompIntelligence today and find out how we can help you develop a winning communication framework for your organization.