Managers and Executives are always pushing their teams to lead, move faster and innovate. However, when you step back and talk to individual team members one of the first questions I hear is “How do I lead?”. This often comes from team members that are individual contributors. They don’t feel empowered based on their position. They tie leadership to the ability to unilaterally make a decision when in fact, very few employees, including leaders have that power at a company.
Borrowing from one of Amazon’s Leadership Principles — Leaders are Owners — I want to propose a new way of thinking about leadership. From divisional managers to IT project managers to individual contributors, pushing the sentiment that each are owners of the company will fundamentally change their behavior. This not an overnight change that can occur, but one that has to morph into the root culture of the company.
Let’s investigate a key principles of owners that must be factored in as you try to change the mentality of your team members.
- Owners don’t compromise.
- Owners resources are scarce.
- Owners are customer centric.
- Owners expect more out of everyone.
- Owners know their business inside and out.
- Owners innovate.
When talking with project managers I will often correlate their role to that of a home owner remodeling their house. I ask them, if a 5 plumbers showed up to their house to install a bathroom in a room they did not want one in what would they do? They all respond with “I would kick them all out and find a new plumber!”. That mentality is what is needed at all levels within a company. If you are managing a project, why would you accept estimates that can’t be explained, why would you settle for poorly trained staff, or all schedules to shift for no apparent reason. If you hire a vendor, why do you let them control the outcome? Act like you are an owner.
This mentality is the same with business and operations leaders as well. Too often they let sentiment into their decision making process vs. leveraging facts. They tie themselves emotionally to an idea, or don’t push hard enough for detailed information, or allow favoritism into their decision. There is a place for emotion in an organization, but too often emotion leads a decision vs. allowing quantitative analysis to have an equal weight in the process.
Think about it, many team members in an organization will explain away not doing something by saying “It’s just not the way we do things here” or “That idea has been tried before”. Organizational inertia gets in the way too often challenging team members ability to act as an owner. Organizational change management will need to play a critical role if you are to change your culture to a culture of owners.
An owner will make a choice of charging a $3.25 cafe latte back to the company vs. the $1.50 brewed coffee. They will negotiate contractor rates aggressively to ensure the their project dollars go far. They will return unspent funds in a timely manner. They will always ask the question, is this decision good for our customer, stakeholder, or shareholders?
Owners take pride in their company, how it runs and what it stands for. They don’t just point out problems, but actually bring solutions to bear against those problems. They vigorously challenge how capital is spent within their organization to ensure the highest return possible. Owners strive to have the best talent on their teams and move average talent along.
If everyone in your company acted an owner what would be different? What projects would stop? Would the team make up be the same? What type of team member engagement would you have? Would you expect to see higher productivity and efficiency? Would there be a divide between your distinct functions that traditionally exist between Marketing, Sales, Finance, Operations, and Technology?
An ownership mindset can be very powerful within your organization. To get started, focus on educating your teams on all aspects of the business. Each team member should understand what drives sales, what the cost of sales are, how margin in calculated, and what percentage of sales makes up Technology, Operations, or Corporate Functions.Teach them about your competitors, industry trends impacting your business, and how the company is developing its long range plan to ensure their competitiveness. Connect your teams with your customers. Allow them to sit in on focus groups, tag along on sales calls, or work the store floor in a retail environment. The more your teams understand your business, the more they will act as owners. Ultimately, an ownership mindset will ultimately lead to better and faster decision making. It will lead to a more efficient and productive staff. Finally, it will empower team members at all levels of the organization.