To understand how to get your employees to think like an owner, you first need to understand why this is so important, and can be so productive. As the owner or top level manager of any size business you have a vision of how you want things to work. This includes the type, level, and style of work done to be productive. The vision is your own attitude and culture that creates a certain working environment on the way to an ultimate goal. It is what made you successful enough to expand to the point where you needed to hire employees. This can turn negative very quickly if the same culture that made you successful is not carried on through the people who work for you. Are you ready to quit on the culture that you want, and was so successful when you first started?
As a boss have you ever run into an issue where you were busy or unreachable and an employee was put in the position of making a really important decision, needing an answer right then for the good of the company? Most have, and that decision can go a few different ways depending on the atmosphere, working environment, and culture that you have created for the people that work for you. The three most likely outcomes to this issue are listed here:
In the best case your employee knows that you appreciate their work and their ideas. You have taken the time to get to know their goals and ambitions and have worked together on projects or tasks before. You have included this employee in many decisions made over time and they are aware of how you handle many different situations. They feel a sense of pride in their job and really feel like a valued member of the team. In this scenario the chances of the correct decision being made without you goes up tremendously. This employee is confident now in this situation and truly has the best interest of the business at heart.
In another probable case your employee has never really had a meaningful conversation with you because they know you are really not listening anyway. Anytime they have tried to give their input it has been brushed off without any real acknowledgement. They complete the work passed along to them but their only real focus is on their own role. Their is no reason to take pride in going above and beyond or seeking out what is best for the business. In this scenario the employee is not confident and probably uncomfortable. There is a good chance that the wrong decision will be made, especially since they have never been allowed to be involved with you during such a decision.
And probably the worst case, your employee is too fearful of making a mistake that they don't make a decision at all. The culture set for this to happen is very similar to the second example above. When your employees are that fearful of getting into trouble nothing will ever get done outside of what they are told directly to do.
This was just one example of why it is important for your employees to be able to take ownership. When your employees are confident and proud enough to to become a decision maker because of the culture you have created, they are capable of thinking like an owner.
An important way to create a culture that is conducive to the ownership mentality is listen. Yep, that is right, actually listen. You do not have to be best buddies with everyone, or even friends for that matter. But as a person of authority in someones life, if you really listen to them it will break down many barriers that can make someone feel unimportant. I have had bosses that know that listening is supposed to be important so they would ask employees questions just to make them feel like their input was important, but walk away from the conversation with zero intention of taking the feedback seriously. A lot of times they would pretend to listen, but didn't actually hear a thing. I won't lie, this will actually play for a little while, but eventually your staff will catch on. Listening is more than just sounds going into your ears. It is hearing what the person is saying and interacting based on what you are told. It is learning and remembering peoples work ambitions (and private ambitions if they care to share them, but let them be the ones to take it there if they want) and goals within the company. Once you have established a work relationship with your employees these interactions can come at any time, either randomly or staged. No matter which way they happen though, they need to happen often.
Another very important way to nurture this culture and to enable ownership mentality is constant but relevant feedback. Definitely have time scheduled or set aside to give constant feedback to your employees. Keep in mind, it is better to put some work into this and be prepared for each individual meeting. If you are just "meeting to meet" without content to discuss, it is just a waste of time. This is the perfect time to let people know where they are falling short and need to step up their game, while at the same time showing that the good things they are doing are being noticed. You can even soften mood when discussing shortcomings by calling them "areas of opportunity". That being said, be honest and specific when discussing areas of opportunity. If you wrap a couple of great things around the bad, they will respect your honest feedback even more, and chances are performance will improve. This is solely because it is human nature to get defensive when receiving criticism, however this is less likely to happen if you receive this criticism while also receiving praise and recognition.
I recently came across an article written by Graine Ford where he talks about the CEO of www.teamwork.com , Peter Coppinger , coming up with an idea for additional feedback in an anonymous way for more honest answers. Here is a snippet from the article describing the idea as a resource for feeback. Click on Graine's name to go to the complete article, or on teamwork.com to go to that site.
Feed the CEO Monkey. Peter collects anonymous questions from his team in a Google Form, reads each one, and then answers them in the company’s internal blog. This process has been instrumental in uncovering problems and gathering suggestions for specific team issues at the company. Posting the answers in a company-wide forum lets each team member know that the founders are listening and responsive.
Depending on how many employees you have it might be difficult to pull this off, but with a large number of employees you wouldn't have to do every single one. The point would still get across, and would be appreciated. Between really listening and constant feedback, this can seem like it would take up a lot of very valuable time. Keep in mind you can combine listening interactions and feedback into the same "one on one", killing two birds with one stone. Also, the return on investment from this level of employee engagement will be worth every minute when you have a business full of confident employees that feel appreciated and important. Now they are proud enough of the themselves and the company to think like and owner.
Now that you have your employees ready to take ownership, one way to really drive home the point is through delegation. This is a scary concept to some owners. I mean, as the owner you have more at stake than an employee. How can you be sure that anyone else can get the job done the way that you can? Well, "guide to hiring the right people" is a topic for a future post, however another great way to feel confident in delegation is by following what we have already discussed so far. You have been listening and interacting, providing constant and relevant feedback, and know your employees strengths and weaknesses. You have a strong idea of what you can delegate and to whom at this point. You have spent time making decisions WITH your employees instead of FOR your employees, and you understand each other. Is this going to 100% guarantee that no mistakes are made, of course not. However the culture of ownership throughout the business will make up for a few mistakes many times over. And now let's be honest. If you put the work in to create the healthy culture that you want, and can now feel comfortable and confident in delegating some of your many responsibilities, how much easier and less stressful will your life become? At the very least it will free up some time to explore ways to improve your business even more.
I chose listen, feedback, and delegation as the three topics I wanted to discuss regarding employees thinking like an owner. There are quite a few more things you can do, and steps you can take. Some owners will talk about different bonuses, or even stock option rewards. For a lot of people this can be very compelling. There are also the ideas about team building exercises or sending key employees to leadership workshops. If you have the resources I would encourage and all of the above attitude for this topic. That being said, the reason I chose these three topics is because in my experience I believe they are the most important, and most successful. Any direction you choose to go will be an investment. Either an investment of time, and investment of money, or an investment in both.
As usual, thank you for taking the time to read this. I had a good time putting it together and hopefully it was worth the read. If it was, take a second and share it with someone you think might benefit as well.