are you sure you want employees who think like an owner?

the bossI want employees who think like an owner.” I typically hear this from small business owners, but sometimes from managers, and I don’t fully understand it. There seems to be a myth that has owners and entrepreneurs up on a pedestal. It would make sense if being a business owner meant having the perfect mindset and approach to business, but my own experience and observation suggests otherwise.

To be clear: entrepreneurs and business owners are great – I love their ingenuity and drive – but that doesn’t mean they are without flaws, blind spots, or human frailty. Being an owner doesn’t automatically create infallibility, omniscience, or even basic common sense. [Note: if you are a business owner and reading this, clearly I’m not referring to you. You’re perfect. I’m talking about some of the other business owners out there, myself included.]

So my internal cynic starts laughing: They want people who think like an owner, huh? Does that mean they want employees like some of the owners I’ve known? They want someone who…

  • Insists on being involved in every decision and then is inaccessable for weeks at a time, forcing work to grind to a halt?
  • Maintains a very flexible schedule insists that everyone be available at any time to discuss work?
  • Takes up significant business time with personal errands? Or has an admin who spends the bulk of their time dealing with the owner’s personal errands on the company dime?
  • Puts the business at risk from family squabbles?
  • Can’t be bothered to learn the tactical parts of the business and invariably creates havoc every time they try to help a customer?
  • Has little understanding of employment laws and doesn’t get why they aren’t allowed to do whatever they want to do just because they want to do it?
  • Justifies extreme micromanaging with the thought that it’s their money and they should retain total control over it.
  • Take it as a personal slight whenever an employee quits?
  • Has so few people skills or such a hyper-dominant personality that they are basically unemployable and have to own their own business?
  • Never realizes that not everyone is willing to sacrifice family relationships or personal interests for the business as they do?
  • Inadvertently causes talented employees to go to work elsewhere because they can only get promoted so high in a family business?
  • Wants people to make their own decisions, but gets upset if they aren’t theexact same decisions the owner would have made?
  • Destroys trust and communication by being a little too good at being the “boss”?
  • Ends arguments with, “Because it’s my business and I said so!”
  • Never realize that people treat them differently solely because they are the owner?
  • Gets angry at customers and thinks customers are all trying to rip the owner off or yells at them for using a competitor.
  • Can’t fathom that a business whose managers are 90% all the same race and gender as the owner might be suffering from a lack of diversity?
  • Changes their mind minute by minute, mood swing by mood swing?
  • Views the business as a status symbol and spends large amounts of the business’ money on flashy “company” vehicles, showy offices, and designer clothes and accessories in an attempt to look successful?
  • Who are so visionary they continuously come up with big ideas and dump them on employees with little concept or regard for how feasible the ideas are. And with little memory of all the other new ideas people are still working on.
  • What else? I’m sure I missed a few of the ways owners get in the way of their business.

Is every owner and entrepreneur like this? Absolutely NOT! Business owners are just like everyone else – some are better at what they do than others and some are worse. Some businesses succeed because of the owner and some succeed despite the owner. But these are real examples from some of the business owners I’ve known throughout the years and I’m not convinced those are the traits people are wanting in employees.

When people say they want people who think like an owner I suspect they actually want people who care about the results they are creating, who have a sense of urgency, who look after details and understand the impact on the big picture, and who are generally prudent with resources. But that’s not always the same as thinking like an owner.

Be careful what you ask for.

[Photo Credit: GDS Productions via Compfight.com]


Underdogs don’t always win. They’re not supposed to. The odds are stacked deeply against them and to pull it off would be a miracle. That’s why we root for the underdog. That’s why it’s so powerful when they do win.

Enter Hollywood. The underdog myth is so prevalent it would be easy to think that underdogs always win. That they’re supposed to. All it takes is heart and a three-minute montage of effort set to a catchy rock tune. Suddenly the hero is as masterfully adept as the villain who has spent a lifetime at their craft.

It makes for a great story. Who among us can’t identify with feeling outclassed, mistreated by jerks, held down by the cruel and incompetent boss, played the fool by circumstances beyond our control, or being the victim of an unjust world? We’ve all been there at some moment.

Then the credits roll and we return to the real world. A place that can be as mean, vile, nasty, and indifferent as it can be beautiful, loving, caring, and inspiring. And we try to muddle through because we don’t have the answers and the world is bigger than us and feels overwhelming.

When a movie ends, it ends. There is a happily ever after or at least a resolution and a stopping point. In real life EVERY MOMENT IS A NEW BEGINNING and we don’t know how it ends because it is always beginning again.

We take actions and we make choices and we don’t know if it’s the right one or not. What career, what job, what city, what spouse? We will never know what might have been, only where we are now. And we’ll never know if today’s decisions are right until tomorrow (and sometimes tomorrow is a long ways off).

That’s what your employees are feeling. Your customers. Your boss and your kids.

Everyone wants to be the hero of their story. No one thinks they are the villain. And we all feel like the underdog.

was it the right decision?

[NOTE: the other day I did a post on customer service called ‘why did you bother?’ I had a great conversation yesterday that reminded me that the same issue applies to HR and onboarding.]

First day at work and almost everyone suffers buyer’s remorse. Was it the right decision? Would it have been better to stay at my old job? Will I like my co-worker? What’s my boss like? My old job wasn’t perfect – I hated parts of it – but there was some good stuff, too. I wonder if they’ll take me back if this doesn’t work out? I don’t know anyone here.

Was it the right decision? That’s what almost everyone is asking themselves when they come in to work that first day. Was it the right decision? Even when it’s a step up in pay, title, responsibility, or moving to a great company. Was it the right decision?

Based on the first hour of the first day on the job at your company, how do you think they would answer that question? How would they answer it at the end of the first day?

Some factors to consider:

Did they know what to expect?

Did they know how to prepare, what to bring, what clothes to wear?

Was someone there to greet and welcome them? Was that person excited to see them?

Were they given a tour of the building so they know where to park, find the bathrooms, and get to the cafeteria/break room/vending machines?

Was their boss there to welcome them, introduce them to the team, show them their workspace, discuss expectations, and help them get settled in?

Was their workspace clean and ready for them? Or did they have to spend time figuring out where everything being stored there needed to go?

Did someone offer to take them to lunch? Or did they have to eat alone?

Was there a plan in place for what they would be working on or doing the first day, and then the first couple of days? Did that plan make sense?

Was someone responsible for creating a fantastic onboarding experience? Is there even an onboarding plan or process in place?

Basically, it comes down to: did they feel expected, welcomed, important, and successful that first day? Did they leave feeling like they made the right decision to work at your company?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, give serious consideration to this one: Why did you bother?

It’s like a car dealer spending huge money on advertising and promotions getting you to come down to their business, set you up to get a car that you think you’re going to enjoy, and then make the actual negotiating and purchase experience miserable. So miserable, that even though you love the car you vow to never buy from them again. And you tell all your friends to never go there. Why did that dealer even bother?

You (hopefully) put a lot of time and effort into advertising for positions, finding candidates, interviewing, and putting together an attractive offer. You have a lot invested in them before they even walk in the door. After all that work to hire them, why not set them up for success from the first moment?

Did they make the right decision? They’ll know after the first day. What’s their answer going to be?

Employees are the most important asset of a company? Maybe not.

We hear it all the time. It makes a nice sound bite. Leaders say, “The most important asset of our company is our employees. Yet, judging by the limited amount of time, money, and effort most companies invest in selecting, training, and coaching their people, I would guess that people were about #97 on the most important asset list. Leaders say it and HR types gripe that leaders don’t really mean it, but what if it is not true at all? What if people aren’t the most important asset?

I’ve been kicking around an idea and would love to hear other’s thoughts on this. What if the most important asset of a business isn’t its people, but its customers? It’s an interesting idea to consider. I suspect that if companies embraced that idea then they would actually end up focusing more attention on the employees. If customers are the most valuable asset, then we want to hold on to them, invest in them, and grow them. How do we do that? By developing systems and processes around the customer. By making them feels special, important, and welcome. By putting the customer first. And how do we do that? By carefully and deliberately finding, hiring, developing, and retaining the best people to deliver that experience.

Is more than just semantics? It seems that when we put great processes in place solely for the sake of the employee then it’s often just a half-hearted effort; vague altruism sucks money away from profits so employee programs don’t get the attention they deserve. However, when we hire, develop, etc.great people for the sake of the customer (and the customer’s dollar) then HR becomes strategic because it is directly correlated with profit. What do you think? Is this just wordplay or is there something to this idea?