Peer to peer: Treat workers like owners and they’ll act like it

How can you get employees to behave like owners?   

Robert Murray - Principal, Robert Murray Consulting Ltd.

Since 2008, our business world has been flattened, turned upside down and shook up. We will never see it like pre-2008 again.

Markets from virtually every corner of the planet are now causing chaos and confusion, and no sector is safe from the effects of generational differences among employees, emerging markets, government meltdowns and non-traditional competition.

We can sit back and watch it happen and wait for someone on the other side of the planet to eat our lunch, or we can take a leadership position by building an engaged culture of “owners” as teammates. That is the choice of today’s leader. I prefer the latter.

The good news is that organizations that are investing in their people and focusing on developing strong leadership, simple, executable strategies and emotional connections with team members and customers are winning. And they are seeing higher margins, stronger loyalty and growth.

How, though, do you create a culture of “owners”?

Here is a simple approach:

1) Make sure everyone on the team knows exactly where you are going (vision) and why (purpose).

2) Involve your team in building strategies. Keep it simple and limited to three strategies (three because it has been proven time and time again that more than three do not get executed).

3) Clearly define everyone’s roles and responsibilities within the plan.

4) Create a scoreboard so that everyone can keep score and see that they are making progress.

5) Define what the team wins when it delivers. What is the reward or recognition beyond a paycheque?

Keep it simple. Make sure your team is very involved in the process. Communicate often. Watch magic happen.

Joel Shapiro - Partner, Incrementa Consulting Inc.

An ownership mindset is all about being accountable for your actions, taking initiative and looking out for the long-term interests of your organization and its stakeholders – doing the right thing even when no one is looking. This becomes a powerful competitive advantage in a world in which so many companies have employees who don’t care, aren’t responsible and feel entitled.

Foster a culture of initiative and ownership in your team.

•Earn employee trust and respect by treating your employees well.

•Lead by example: be accountable, take initiative and act like an owner.

•Make a case by answering the questions, “If we are all taking initiative and ownership, what benefits will we see? How will it help our business and each of us as individuals?”

•Define it: “What does taking ownership look like? What are the best ways to do it? How good do we need to be? And how can we all lead by example on this?”

•Support and show appreciation for effort and achievement – be a coach, not a cop.

•Share success stories and celebrate successes.

•Build clear expectations into your company’s values, hiring, orientation, job descriptions, performance management and promotions.

•Keep it top of mind by discussing it. What has worked best so far? What have you learned? How can you do it even better?

You might start by telling your employees to take ownership, but the project will have far more credibility and momentum if you also help them take ownership, take ownership yourself and take joint ownership with your employees on key projects.

Maria Keckler - Author, Bridge Builders: How Superb Communicators Get What They Want in Business and in Life

I once heard U.S. management expert Ken Blanchard share a story that illustrates how even the most unlikely organizations can inspire their employees to act like owners.

After years of avoiding the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office, Blanchard decided the time had come for him to renew his licence. “Block my calendar for three hours,” he told his secretary. “That’s how long it takes to get anything done at the DMV.”

But from the moment he stepped into the building, he knew something was radically different.

An affable woman greeted him at the door. She quickly directed him to a friendly clerk who helped him fill out his forms and take his picture. In seven minutes he was done. His wasn’t an isolated case. He learned that the new director in charge was the inspiration behind a culture that was turning their customers into raving fans.

I’ve seen similar transformations too, and they all begin when one leader is willing to model and reward three behaviours:

•Empathy. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes by asking: What type of communication and behaviour would inspire me to feel like an owner?

•Authenticity. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help. Start by asking, “I need your feedback.” More specifically, “What would make you feel like an owner in our organization?”

•Respect. Empower employees by recognizing and honouring good judgment. “I just work here. I don’t make up the rules. Talk to my supervisor.” These statements usually indicate that employees don’t feel their judgment is respected.

Bottom line: employees who are treated like owners behave like owners.

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