Executives and leaders throughout the business world love to encourage employees to “think like owners.”
The idea is noble: If everyone feels invested in the organization—so invested it’s as if they actually own a piece of the business—we’ll make better decisions, solve more problems, and experience greater productivity.
The concept inspires employees to view themselves not as mere cogs in the machine, but true business partners, deeply engaged in the success of the enterprise.
The problem? All too often, these same executives and leaders fail to treat their employees like owners. It’s a one-sided equation and employees notice the discrepancy. For the employee, it ends up feeling like more work and greater responsibility, with little or no upside.
If you want employees to think and act like owners, you have to help them feel like owners too. Here are a few ways to do that.
Offer More Freedom, Fewer Rules
One perk of ownership is freedom. No one questions a business owner who arrives at the office a few minutes late in the morning. After all, it’s presumed he can manage himself, his time and his workload responsibly. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a business, right?
Why then hold your “owner” employees to strict rules around when, where and how they do their work? As long as it’s getting done successfully, these things shouldn’t matter. Trust that your employees are responsible enough to manage themselves as any owner would.
Further, studies show that this kind of flexibility improves employee morale and increases productivity. It helps break employees away from the “clock watcher” mindset and focuses them more on creating results—just like an owner. So it’s a win-win.
Allow Employees to Share in the Rewards
Another important aspect of ownership is that business success (or lack thereof) has a direct impact on the owner’s personal pocketbook. Without the financial incentive, ownership is a daunting task that yields no fruit for the intense labor.
Sure, every organization wants employees who are motivated by pure, unfettered love of the work and mission. But warm and fuzzy feelings don’t pay the bills or send the kids to college. By asking your employees to think like owners, you’re instructing them to be ultra-conscious of the bottom line and their effect on it. When they see their efforts are indeed having a positive impact, they instinctively want their own bottom line to reflect that—just as any owner would.
Help your employees have some real monetary skin in the game by offering profit sharing opportunities, bonuses, or other compensation, such as additional PTO, for achieving specific goals and objectives.
Also read: 3 Ways to Maximize Employee Engagement
Give Employees a Real Seat at the Table
Finally, it’s worthwhile noting that, in order for employees to truly embrace the ownership concept, they must have a voice in the organization. This means there must first be transparency, so they know what’s happening and how they can best contribute to the collective goals.
Beyond that, it means that leadership must take the employees’ opinions to heart. Executives must ask the hard questions—and listen, even when it’s difficult. Employees also need to have the authority to make decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes. That how ownership works.
If leaders want employees to think and act like owners, they need to give them the same opportunities that owners have. Otherwise, it’s just another big idea without any substance behind it. Employees know when they’re being suckered. Without an enticing upside, ownership isn’t worth the hassle.