From Tenant to Owner

My wife and I had been married a little over four years when we purchased our first home.  We had rented various apartments and condo’s through several moves prior to that purchase.  I still remember that first house.  It was built back in the 1940’s and had been renovated at least one time.   We painted every room in that house during the first few months we were there.  I would eventually paint the kitchen cabinets, build a fence/gate to the backyard, rework the flower beds, and so many more things.  We really took pride in that house.  We addressed things timely that needed to be done with the money we had available.  

That experience was so different from our rental years of letting things go because it wasn’t our responsibility.  On larger things we would just call the owner and turn the problem over to them; that’s what renters do!  We knew we would only be there temporarily, so we never really got too  caught up in long term commitment type discussions about those places.

I share that story because our workplaces often have the same feel to them.  If we have employees that come in every day and view themselves at tenants, then you can get a picture of how they respond to the work environment.  They come in, wait to be told what to do, meet the expectation, but never really get fully committed or fully involved.  Maybe they view themselves as just passing through until something better comes along.

However, if we can lead people from that tenant mentality to owner view, then we start to see the real capability of a team working together.  People that view themselves as “owners” take a different level of pride in their work, their workplace, their view of customers, and their interaction with coworkers.  Safety awareness and overall involvement is heightened.  Quality of work and the product produced is more closely monitored when ownership is established.  Machine care and reliability are taken to a different level when people see themselves as “owners” of the equipment.

So how do we lead our employees from tenant to owner when most naturally come to work thinking tenant?  Here are five quick thoughts for you to consider as you lead your team:

  1. Communicate: share information openly about what’s important, how we are doing, and how everyone can be a part of making a difference.  Always get it back to why it should matter to them.  It’s not about the Company in this discussion, but rather why it matters to the individual.  Remember, you are leading that individual to be part owner with you.  (what’s in it for them)
  2. Ask Questions:  get input from your team and include them in the decision making process as much as possible on things that involve them. You can’t always do what they suggest, but do what you can to bring them further into the decision making process; even if it is just small stuff.  When we start valuing what people think and not just what they do, we are on our way!
  3. Use the Right Pronouns:  When talking about the plant, talk in terms of our plant, what we have to accomplish, our customers, etc.   Stay away from “I”, “me”, “their”, etc.   Inclusive conversational focus is the key.  Don’t talk departments in the plant either.  It’s all about “we” and “our”.
  4. Take and Defer:  The leader takes responsibility (publicly) for the team not doing well and defers (publicly) the recognition to the team when things do go well.  The leader builds credibility here.  People follow leaders that have credibility and will likely take on more ownership when that happens.
  5. Empower:  Last, but certainly not least, is the need to give people an opportunity to make decisions, work independently, and assume responsibility.  Hey, we may have some short term setbacks along the way, but the long term benefits of ownership (if done right) far exceed the momentary setbacks.

I am essentially talking about what the company and industry refer to as employee engagement.  That’s just a fancy word for taking ownership. 

As you think about how we wrap up a very challenging year with so many obstacles in the way, give some thought to how we can create a culture of ownership in our plants and our teams.  We sure need more owners now more than ever!

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