The bigger picture

Five ways to help employees think like an owner


Whether you’re a business leader or a business owner, you understand the merits of explaining and communicating your company’s mission, vision and values to employees.

It defines your organization’s culture. It helps people understand how you differ from your competitors and how you bring value to the marketplace.

Some of this may be diminished or lost among rank-and-file employees. This isn’t necessarily intentional. It might simply be because your leaders at the top concentrate more time and energy on strategic thinking. Lower-level employees must spend their time on operations. Each group serves a purpose in getting things done. 

If you want to win in today’s complex business environment, however, you need more than just competent people at all levels to help you grow. Here are five things you can do to help each employee “think like an owner.”

1. Develop employees

Don’t just train them. Take a keen interest in their entire workplace experience by providing thoughtful mentoring and coaching. Offer sincere and frequent feedback.

Create an environment that’s open to challenges, calculated risk and change that will lead to growth.

2. Encourage critical thinking

This is one of the most important problem-solving skills that a leader must develop. It’s equally valuable for employees at all levels.

Help them feel comfortable with “Socratic questioning” of the status quo. That means encouraging them to explore complex ideas, get to the truth, uncover issues and problems, question assumptions and analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we don’t know. Socratic questioning focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues or problems.

It seeks continuous improvement of processes and products and looks for new opportunities.

3. Commit to the employee experience

This includes the initial onboarding process, helping employees fit in with the company culture, and offering career planning and opportunities to advance.

Today’s ideal workplace experience goes even further. It includes three things that matter most in the modern environment:

  1. Advanced technological tools.
  2. A physical workspace that fosters collaborating with other teams.
  3. A culture that emphasizes learning and an entrepreneurial team-building spirit.

Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.

4. Share a global viewpoint

All employees want and need to know the broader strategic direction of your organization. It helps them see how they “fit” into achieving excellence, how they contribute to the company’s  economics that drive profitability, and how they can stay relevant and be engaged.

It also requires their commitment, accountability, and better resource planning – just like an owner. Everything now matters that much more.

5. Stress personal responsibility

It starts with the person at the top. Help develop employees and treat them like owners. In practice, it means greater transparency of “the big picture,” positive thinking, and giving employees a voice at the table.

Employees share an equal responsibility. They must prioritize their own activities, adjust to changing conditions, manage time efficiently, demonstrate the ability to make well-reasoned decisions and practice better listening skills. They must be as much of a good follower as a good leader.

So why is it a big deal if employees have an ownership mindset? Benefits galore for the employer and its customers.

But employees who have a real sense of ownership exhibit the same honesty, trust and respect as their companies do. They work well with their supervisors and peers, and they enjoy a workplace that respects and appreciates everyone.

A healthier, more productive company increases profits. More profits lead to more resources that can improve products and services. Better products and services create more satisfied and loyal customers.

The overall effect? A company that’s unstoppable. And that benefits everyone.

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George Satula is an executive leadership coach working primarily as a Vistage chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He is also a speaker and leadership development consultant. He can be reached at (262) 786-7400 or

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