Owners versus Renters

April 10, 2015 | Communication, Leadership, Trust

Photo by Roey Ahram on Flickr

Last week, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend from Purdue for the first time in 15 years. I think this is one of the greatest benefits from founding Earnest Consulting Group; reconnecting with old friends. He indicated that he looked at our web site and really liked the quote, “our goal as leaders is to create a culture that creates owners rather than renters.” I first heard this quote in the book Hardwiring Excellence by Quint Studer. He indicated to me that as a leader he needed to help each worker “own” their process or product. He used the example of a lathe operator. The lathe operator should own the process of creating good product as well as each product that comes off his or her lathe.

We both have engineering backgrounds so I could appreciate what having an owner for an employee meant to him. I think a good way to make this lathe operator own his or her process and product is to help them find a connection between the work that they do every day and the mission of the company. It is imperative that we as leaders do this with all of our employees.

As it pertains to creating a culture of owners versus renters, this quote can be viewed on a different level as well. Good business owners, those who actually legally own the business, do not get caught up in blaming other departments for their problems. They help support and coach each department to work at their best capacity. So it should also be with their employees. We, as leaders, cannot achieve true excellence until each of our employees assume the responsibility of improving the organization; to act like an owner. Renters only focus on what is in their job description and put everything else in the “not my problem” category. Owners understand that all aspects of the business affect them and will contribute to help solve problems no matter where the responsibility lies.

Some people may point to a good profit sharing program or stock options as a solution to get everyone to think as owners. These options are not always practical based on how the business is constructed. More importantly, they do not always change the attitudes of employees.

However, the companies I have encountered that have a culture of ownership or strong individual accountability have two things in common. First, leaders share information openly with their employees. Second, leaders allow employees to get involved in the hiring process through peer interviewing. Peer interviewing will be covered in an upcoming post. In a nutshell, owners cannot be created due to more compensation but can be created by engaging them. It is up to us to create the right environment that helps develop employees into behaving more like owners.

What are some other ways we as leaders can create a culture that creates owners rather than renters?

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