Guest Article: From Compliant to Committed: Inspiring Your Employees to Think and Act Like Owners

09 Feb 2016

Have you ever done business with a company and dealt directly with the owner? What kind of experience did you have? I’ll bet it was a good one. I imagine the owner went out of his way to make you feel valued and appreciated and treated you as if you were his only customer. You probably felt pretty good about the experience and the company. Compare that to the kind of experience you had when you dealt with an employee of a company. Did you get that same outstanding treatment you got when you were dealing with the owner, or was it an indifferent or even a horrible experience?

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine if every time your customers interacted with your company they felt valued, appreciated and treated as if they were your company’s only customer. I’ll bet they would not only continue doing business with your company but they would also tell their family and friends about your company as well. That fantasy can be your reality if you have a culture of ownership among your employees.

Let’s start with the definition of compliant. It means to obey or oblige. I define it as doing what you are supposed to do because someone else expects it of you. It springs from the intrinsic motivation of reward and punishment. Being committed is a different story. It’s being engaged and attached to the outcome. Commitment springs from the intrinsic motivation of pride and engagement. You can hold people accountable for their job descriptions, but you can’t hold them accountable for being committed and engaged.

The difference is that in a compliant culture, people are doing just enough to get by, whereas in a committed culture, people are doing the right thing and making the extra effort. If your employees are not thinking and acting like owners, they are thinking and acting like “renters”. Renters don’t care and are just there for a paycheck. They don’t engage with your customers, are less inclined to cross-sell and up-sell and instead of charging for services, they are more likely to give them away. Renters hurt your business. Don’t despair though. If you have renters in your organization, you can convert them to owners.

A culture of ownership is one where employees feel like owners, act like owners, think like owners and are treated like owners, even though they may not actually have any formal equity in the company. The good news is you don’t have to give your employees shares of stock in your company to get them thinking and acting like owners. They don’t have to “be” an owner to “act” like an owner. However, there are some things you do need to do.

Take a look in the mirror. Look at the way you are treating your employees. The way you treat them is the way they will treat your customers. You model the behavior you want them to demonstrate. Treat your employees well and they will do the same with your customers. Yell and scream at your employees and you can almost guarantee that your employees will do the same to your customers.

Empower your employees. Give them the knowledge, skills and tools they need to not only do their job, but also to go above and beyond, especially when it comes to dealing with your customers. When people are empowered they don’t look up the hierarchy for answers, they take responsibility to solve problems where they occur. They have the freedom to act and are also accountable for the results.

Eliminate the policies and procedures that get in the way of them thinking and acting like an owner. Oftentimes when a customer is upset and they ask to speak with the owner, the customer winds up getting exactly what they wanted in the first place. Why put your customer (and your employee) through that exercise in the first place? Tell your employees, “I want you to handle it like you own the business. I know you’ll do the right thing.” Just watch what happens with performance when you express sincere confidence in this way to your employees.

Talk about what’s going on in your organization with your employees: the good, the bad and the ugly. There’s nothing worse than an employee hearing it secondhand, especially from a customer. Your employees are the front-line and have the most interaction with your customers. It’s important for them to have the information they need to respond appropriately to your customers. Prepare them for everything.

Ask your employees for their feedback: what’s working, what’s not, what customers like, what customers are complaining about. Pick your employees’ brains. They have the inside scoop on what your customers are saying. Imagine if you tapped your employees for their insider knowledge. You could transform your business and give customers what they really want. And in the process, you are engaging your employees and helping them feel valued and that they are an important part of the team.

When you inspire a culture of ownership among your employees, they will be committed to the values, vision and mission of your organization, as well as committed to their own development. They will also be engaged in their work and feel a sense of connection with their coworkers and with the organization. Employees who think and act like owners are passionate about their work and do it with great enthusiasm. They feel connected to the big picture and know how important their role is in the success of the organization. Most importantly, they take pride in their jobs and in their organization.

Imagine a culture where employees feel they can take risks, implement their ideas without discouraging amounts of bureaucracy, and benefit personally from the outcome of their actions. Your employees are the most important asset your company has. Treat them that way and you will create a culture that has everyone acting like an owner of the company.

By Randi Busse


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Randi Busse is the President of Workforce Development Group, Inc., a training and development organization that specializes in improving the customer experience, increasing customer retention, maximizing revenue and creating a culture of ownership among employees. Learn more at her website, www.workdevgroup.com.

Randi Busse President, Workforce Development Group, Inc. v. 631-598-5598 
f. 866-596-4260 randi@workdevgroup.com