Oswald Letter

Increase company performance by instilling sense of ownership

Ownershipby Dan Oswald

“He acts like he owns the place!” Depending on the context, that single sentence, when used in the workplace, can either spell disaster or be one of the most positive and flattering things to be said about an employee. If the statement is made out of frustration about an employee who throws his weight around and has a condescending attitude, you might be in trouble. But if it’s said with pride and satisfaction about an employee, then you’ve found yourself a star.

In the end, don’t we all want people who think like owners? People who treat the company’s resources as their own. People who are interested in what goes on in every aspect of the business. People who genuinely care about the customer. And people who will go to any length to see the company succeed.

Here’s a funny story about having employees who treat the company’s resources as their own. I say funny because as a manager, if you don’t laugh, it could make you cry—or at least pull out your hair. A number of years ago (and by that I mean more than a decade because as I get older, it seems more efficient to count years in blocks of 10!), I pulled a recently hired business unit manager in to have a discussion about his expense reports. It seems that when he traveled, he spared no expense. First-class plane tickets, limousines, and high-priced dinners appeared on his travel reimbursement requests. The company didn’t have a hard and fast policy on what was considered acceptable travel expenses, so I felt it necessary to have a conversation about what I believed was reasonable.

I explained to the manager that I had noticed what I thought were exorbitant expenses on his travel reimbursement requests. I listed some of the expenses I thought were especially egregious, and knowing that our travel reimbursement policy didn’t prohibit those expenses (yet), I hit him with, “I’d like you to spend the company’s money like it’s your own.” Take that!

With 100 percent sincerity, he looked me in the eye and replied, “But Dan, I am spending the company’s money like I do my own.” And you know what? He was. This was a guy who spent every dime he made on luxuries for himself. He was indeed spending the company’s money as he did his own. Needless to say, he didn’t last long in the job, and I had to tighten up my travel reimbursement policy!

The lesson was that if you have someone with a real sense of entitlement, you might not want him thinking like an owner. It can be really expensive!

But generally speaking, having a host of employees who think like an owner can be a great thing. That’s why Facebook uses the following motto with new hires: “This is now YOUR company.” That simple statement is plastered on all of Facebook’s onboarding materials, and it’s the first thing new employees see when they walk in the company’s training center. It’s a company goal to have every single employee carry a sense of ownership—not just in the individual jobs but within the company as a whole.

Consider the power of getting everyone thinking like they own the place! Searching out ways to improve operations. Looking for innovative ways to cut waste and inefficiencies. Finding new ways to grow the business and improve the bottom line. Isn’t that what all of us want as managers?

The question is how to make this happen in your department or company. How can you instill this sense of ownership in your people? First, you need to hire the right type of person. You need to hire people who think this way when they walk in the door. In fact, at Facebook, they talk about hiring for the culture, not the skill set. Their rationale? Skills can be taught, but mindset can’t.

Second, you need to train and reinforce the “ownership” mentality at every level in the organization. That means you provide your people with the information and opportunities that will allow them to act like owners. You can’t expect people to act like an owner if they don’t have the information or the freedom to do so in a meaningful way.

Finally, you must recognize AND reward the people who think this way. When someone makes a contribution because of her “ownership mindset,” make sure you let others know that you appreciate and respect that type of thinking. A little recognition can go a long way—not just for the person being recognized for her work but for others who desire the same thing as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could say “He acts like he owns the place!” about every one of your employees and mean it in the best way possible?

2 thoughts on “Increase company performance by instilling sense of ownership”

  1. If you can get employees to focus on the important things and care, that is the key. To get that, we need to give the employee what they need to build their life, and at the same time, get what we need to build the company. That is the question we need to answer.

  2. I really enjoyed this article, very insightful. I would like to have some insight on what the interviewing process looks like and what type of questions are asked.

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