Culture, Talent Management

Hiring Wisdom: How to Get Your Employees to Think Like Owners

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Why is it so difficult to find and hire people who think like owners? You know, the kind of folks who take responsibility and then take action, who don’t wait for a problem before they look for a solution.

The wish that employees would act more like owners is so commonplace it is viewed as one of those “just the way it is” human nature problems. I’d like to suggest, however, that this can and will change when owners and managers first change their own thinking and expectations.

Although old-fashioned dictatorial, top-down, work/responsibility relationships are slowly dissolving, many employer/employee roles are still strongly influenced by the military chain-of-command model that was the norm for previous generations.

Mindset reinforced in performance reviews

On the employee side, because most job descriptions are lists of activities (do this, don’t do that), employees are indoctrinated to think of their work only in terms of the functions they are assigned. When it’s set up like this, and conditions make it difficult or impossible to perform a task as specified, employees are stuck. That’s when they stop and wait for further instructions. They have been conditioned not to act beyond the responsibilities specified in their job descriptions. This mindset is then reinforced in the annual performance appraisal.

On the management side, I suspect many supervisors and managers would confess they rarely think of their crew as much more than interchangeable cogs in a wheel, so it’s no wonder these “cogs” don’t think like owners.

In contrast, effective leaders think in terms of the results that must be accomplished and (within the limits of the law) don’t get hung up on the means by which those results are achieved. They understand that just because a particular task can’t be accomplished in the proscribed way does not mean they cannot produce the desired outcome. They refuse to accept excuses and always come up with a Plan B, C, or D. They find a way to deliver, on time, as promised. People with this mindset are invaluable assets for any organization.

You need to change expectations

To get your staff thinking more like owners, the first step is to change both your expectations and the way you define their jobs. When you focus on results rather than activities, you leave people free to interpret their jobs in a way that works for them. (Just tell them what you want them to accomplish, how you’re going to keep score, then stay out of their way and let them do it.)

The tricky part is you must be clear on measurable results, have the courage to give up the illusion of control, and learn to trust your staff in order to reap the inevitable rewards.

This was originally published in the April 2012 Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.
  • http://twitter.com/TomGimbel Tom Gimbel

    I completely agree, Mel. For staff to begin thinking like owners and managing some of the responsibility that comes with ownership, they need to be results driven instead of activity driven. Another way I’ve found to generate the owner mentality in staff is to involve them in the decisions of the company. Create a staff council or merely sit down with them bi monthly to seek out their opinion. Trusting employees with important decisions demonstrates confidence in their opinion and expertise. It also forces them to begin thinking about the company outside of their specific job requirements.

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