Thinking Like an Owner

My husband and I recently hosted a company party for the biotech startup where he works. When the CEO, who was picking up the tab for the event, offered to pay for carpet cleaning, I joked, “Thanks, but I don’t want to increase your burn rate.” He chuckled, “That’s good – you’re thinking like an owner.”

Much has been written about the value of thinking like an owner, but how can leadership create an environment that encourages employees to think like owners?

Some of the elements of “thinking like an owner” are:

  • Manage cash flow like it’s your own.
  • Value customers, vendors, and employees – all relationships.
  • Be passionately committed to the mission.
  • See the big picture, take the long view.
  • Always strive to improve – product and process.
  • Take responsibility/ownership – pitch in where and when necessary.

So how can you engender this kind of owner-like behavior among employees? Here are the basics:

  1. Pay people enough and provide adequate resources to do their job – don’t pinch pennies.
  2. Provide the right amount of structure to support performance, not impede it – don’t get bogged down in unnecessary bureaucracy.
  3. Hire the right people – the right talents and skills for the job, as well as a strong work ethic and commitment to team.
  4. Trust employees to exercise their own judgment  – don’t micro-manage.
  5. Model good communication and manage your own emotions.
  6. Share the credit for success and the responsibility for failure.
  7. Recognize and reward owner-like behavior and do not tolerate self-serving behavior at the expense of the team.
  8. Listen to your employees and create an atmosphere of open, constructive debate.

In other words, you’ve got to walk your talk and set a good example in everything you do. Your employees will follow.