Raising the level of your leadership

Think Like Owners (?)

PublixHave you ever been dissatisfied with the service you are receiving and asked to “speak to the owner”? Why? You expect to get better service from the owner than from an employee. It doesn’t always work, but often it does. Why? The owner has more at stake than the employee. Your future business is at stake. An owner has more to gain and more to lose than an employee, so an owner will look at every situation differently than an employee.

The truth of “think like an owner” inspired a leadership fad a few years back to “transform your company by getting your employees to think like owners.” The think-like-owners consultants made a lot of money trying to sell and implement this concept. By and large—like most fads—it has been a failure. Why?

  1. It is hard to think like an owner unless you actually are an owner.
  2. It is hard to think like an owner unless you have  an investment at risk like an owner.
  3. It is hard to think like an owner unless you are going to be rewarded like an owner.
  4. It is hard to think like an owner unless—like an owner—you won’t get paid if the company is losing money.

In other words, only an owner can truly think like an owner.

However, there are some companies—Publix for example—where it works. Why? The company actually gives an ownership stake to all employees. From Forbes (August 12, 2013), The Wal-Mart Slayer by Brian Solomon: “All staffers who have put in 1000 work hours and a year of employment receive an additional 8.5% of their total pay in the form of Publix stock.” Now, that’s a real way to incentivize employees to think like owners. The result? Publix is more profitable by a wide margin than Wal-Mart, Kroger or Whole Foods.

The think-like-an-owner mantra is especially important at Publix because their highest priority is customer service (followed by quality, then price). They don’t even try to compete with Wal-Mart or Kroger on price. At Publix, it is all about serving the customer, so they fill the store with owners, not employees. It works.

There is more than one way to incentivize employees to provide good service, but don’t try think like an owner unless you plan to actually make them owners.

I would like to hear your ideas about incentivizing employees to provide great service. What have you seen work?

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2013 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

4 responses to “Think Like Owners (?)”

  1. Cathy White says:

    I’m not sure how they do it, but I am always impressed by the attitudes of Chick Fil-A employees. When they greet me at the drive-thru, I feel like the most important customer, not like a bother to them (which has been my typical feeling at places like Taco Bell or Wendy’s).

    At Ruby Tuesday several years back, they divided the employees into Teams. Each manager led a different team, and the team that had the most combined “WOWs” from customers would get an incentive. The focus, of course, was getting a verbal compliment for above-and-beyond service from a customer. It both increased staff morale and quality customer service.

  2. Matt Austin says:

    We went to a Taco Bell yesterday and Denise noticed (and pointed out as being surprised) how clean the place was. I also found a crew that was smiling, friendly, helpful and courteous. The sad part of the story is that a business should always be all those things but usually aren’t. It stood out. It made me wonder about the manager. Who was she/he? What made her team respond like this when so many others don’t. If a place paying minimum wage could convince employees (who probably wish they had different jobs) to treat customers with respect and truly seem to mean it, the leader there needs commendation. Maybe I should go back and let the manager know it was appreciated.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Great customer service flows out of leadership creating a customer service culture. The Taco Bell manager is doing something right. One thing I do when I get really good service (especially on telephone) is ask if I can let the manager know. The customer service rep is always happy for me to do that. Thanks for input, Matt.

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