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Finding and Keeping Employees with Ownership

Management Strategies for Leading Proactive and Productive Employees


Updated May 09, 2013

Ownership vs. Rentership

Ownership is something that is easily recognized, but not easily defined. An obvious illustration of ownership can be found in real estate. Generally when you own a property, you treat it with respect, keep it in good repair, and make improvements to protect your investment and increase its value. When you’re just the renter in a property, you don’t have much motivation to care about the spills, the holes, the burns, or how your daily activities affect anything beyond your security deposit.

A sense of ownership is activated naturally in people when they have a financial or emotional stake in something. When something can be described as “mine,” it triggers feelings of possessiveness and accountability that are not present from a position of “yours.”

Ownership in the Retail Industry

Ownership in the retail industry is not much different from the real estate industry in that there are those with an “owner” mentality and those with a “renter” mentality in each. In any retail business you can usually identify the owner or manager just by observation. It’s not just that they’re wearing better clothes or walking around with an air of authority. You can point out the head honchos because you can see that they are operating from that position of “mine-ness.” They notice more, engage more, and care more because they have a greater financial and emotional stake in what they’re doing every day.

Occasionally you will encounter a non-managerial employee who possesses that elusive quality of ownership. This is the employee who treats the company they work for and the customers they serve as their own. To the employee with ownership, every success, big or small, is something to celebrate. Every failure, big or small, is something to worry about. This rare and wonderful employee takes every aspect of their job personally and is internally driven towards excellence because that’s the way they like to show up in the world.

Finding Employees with Ownership

Many managers don’t know there is such a thing as ownership until they accidentally hire someone with it. Suddenly the sharp contrast between the employees with the owner mentality and the employees with the renter mentality becomes apparent. The newly awakened manager can now see that the quality of ownership brings with it the kind of proactive and productive behaviors that get things done and get them done well. Since employees with ownership are usually self-directed and low maintenance, managers find that they have few time-consuming supervisory hassles with them. Liking what they see, managers instantly want more of this ownership stuff, but since they’re not sure how they got it in the first place, they’re not sure how to go about getting more employees with it for the future.

It’s not as mysterious as it may seem. Understanding what ownership is, deciding that you want it, and recognizing it when you see it brings it closer. A manager who wants to establish a strong sense of ownership as the standard operating attitude with an employee team just needs to ask for it, support it, and positively reinforce it in order to get it and keep it alive.

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