Oswald Letter

Act like you own the place

by Dan Oswald

I was at a conference last week with a group of senior executives and company owners. Not surprisingly, one of the topics the group discussed was how to identify and attract top talent. It was suggested that a common trait in the best employees is that they act like owners.

That might sound a little vague. I’ve worked for owners before, and they come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of personalities and skill sets. Bottom line is that owners do what’s in the best interest of the business at every opportunity. Still pretty vague.

So let me give you an example of acting (or not acting) like an owner. On my way home from the conference, I was in the Fort Lauderdale airport. I decided to grab lunch at BurgerFi. If you don’t know the relatively new restaurant chain, they serve fresh and very tasty burgers and other sandwiches. There was a bit of a long line out into the terminal hallway, which isn’t unusual, as each order is made fresh while you wait.

I placed my order and sat down to wait for my food. When my order number was called, I went up and grabbed my burger. When I arrived back at my table, I discovered they had left out my fries (don’t judge me!). I headed back up to the counter to inquire about my fries, and the young woman at the counter quickly went about getting me a replacement order.

While I was waiting for those fries, I watched an encounter between a BurgerFi employee and a customer that left me shaking my head. There was a gentleman who had returned to the counter after waiting for more than 20 minutes for his food. When he asked about the status of his order, it was discovered that the cook staff had misplaced it and hadn’t started making his food. After learning about their mistake, the staff went about preparing his order. Of course, he was already a bit frustrated because he had been waiting a while, but he patiently continued to wait as they worked to get him his food.

So, the two of us were waiting together to get our full orders. While I was still waiting for my fries, the young woman at the counter handed the man his order. He looked inside the bag, only to discover he still didn’t have his fries. The man then asked about his missing fries. Instead of grabbing him an order of fries, the BurgerFi employee informed him that he hadn’t ordered any.

Clearly, the man was frustrated. He asked to see the receipt he had given her to get his missing food, but she told him she had already thrown it away. So he asked one more time for his fries, and she again told him he hadn’t ordered any, despite the fact that she couldn’t produce the receipt to prove it.

The customer, extremely frustrated, bit his tongue and walked away, shaking his head. I’m guessing BurgerFi lost a customer for life over a $3.19 order of fries. And that might not be the extent of the damage. Remember, there was a crowded restaurant filled with other customers who potentially witnessed that exchange.

An owner—at least one who has any reasonable chance of success—would have apologized for the oversight and quickly handed the customer an order of fries. An owner—after having already messed up the original order, requiring the customer to wait twice as long for his food—may have offered to comp the entire order. An owner would know that it takes a lot to win the loyalty of a customer and wouldn’t have jeopardized that loyalty over $3.19.

Had BurgerFi hired someone who thought like an owner, this little exchange never would have happened. Of course, I’m assuming the employee has the discretion to do whatever is necessary, within reason, to make a customer happy. And I’m absolutely certain it’s reasonable to give a customer $3.19 to keep him a customer.

Contrast that with an organization like Discount Tires, where the employees have the discretion to give away tires if that’s what’s necessary to right a wrong or retain a customer. There’s an organization that trains its people and gives them the authority to do what’s necessary to exceed their customers’ expectations—and at a cost of much more than three bucks!

As a leader in your organization, you need to look to hire people who act like owners and then give them the authority and autonomy to do so. If you’re working for a company, make sure you’re acting like an owner. It will be good for your career! And if you’re working for a company that won’t allow you the autonomy to act like an owner, move on because the company probably won’t be around long.