Teaching Employees to Think Like Owners

employeeWhen managing employees, many people have the same complaint: They simply don’t feel like their staffers are personally invested in their company. And when employees lack “buy in,” they just don’t contribute the ideas or hard work that separates an average company from a very successful one.

Employee Ownership Starts with Culture

So how do you get your employees to take a genuine interest in your company? Here are five ways to convince your employees to put their own skin in the game:

1. View employees as assets. As a company owner or manager, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing employees as liabilities. They require resources—pay, medical insurance and other benefits—so it can feel like they strain the system rather than enhance it. Instead, treat your employees like clients. Value their ideas. Encourage collaboration. Develop a culture that makes them feel like they have a real stake in the company, rather than just “working a job” that earns them a paycheck.

2. Communicate the big picture. For a variety of reasons, some companies prefer to play their cards close to the vest. Some managers are secretive about their company’s overall health, and employees don’t know if their company is doing extremely well or on the cusp of failure. If you want your employees to adopt a TLO mindset, you must give them an accurate picture of where the company is, where it’s going and whether it’s reaching its benchmarks. Frequently point out the things that are working, the things that need to be changed, and which groups or employees have gone the extra mile.

3. Fix the process before you blame the people. Developing great processes is one of the most important parts of running a business. It’s less about rote systemization, and more about creating checklists and workflows that not only function well but immediately capture when something simply isn’t going as planned. The core of this task is using encouragement and positive reinforcement to develop processes that serve people, not people that serve processes. An employee who is consistently criticized will become discouraged and will never rise to the occasion, let alone think like an owner. Use your processes as learning tools that are frequently recalibrated and improved upon.

4. Link compensation to the appropriate performance. If your run a small company, there’s a strong chance you can’t offer stock options. It’s just not practical. At the same time, a stocked fridge, free car washes and discount movie tickets are nice employee perks, but developing compensation beyond the status quo of your typical startup can be a bit more complicated. With your employees, establish real, attainable benchmarks based on individual and group performance. Here’s a solid formula:

  • 10 to 40% of compensation should be based on individual achievements. Use targets and benchmarks that can be reached on a solo basis.
  • 5 to 25% should be based on team achievements.
  • Bonus pay is different because it rewards risk and enterprise. This should count for 10% of total compensation.

5. Manage culture through participation, training and transparency. From the day they start, employees should play a role in important decisions. For instance, let’s say you plan on hiring a new worker. For many managers, this is a decision based solely on perceived need, whether it’s financial or manpower-related. Instead of remaining secretive, talk it over with your employees. Discuss the pros and cons. On one hand, a new employee might pull more from the profit pool. On the other, if you hire someone new, employees might have more time to work on other projects or take vacations without worrying about their responsibilities at the office. Don’t stop at hiring decisions. Ask your employees about financial decisions, like buying new equipment or having flex Fridays. When your staff is involved, they’re more likely to be honest and feel engaged.

Believe it or not, building a team that thinks like an owner doesn’t require a lot of money, time or sacrifice. It’s an attitude that is infectious, and once certain employees adopt a TLO attitude, expect many of the others to see the benefits and happily follow.

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