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What does it mean for employees to act like business owners? If an employee acts like a business owner, is it a result of financial incentives, personality, or a combination of both?

These questions came to mind while reading an article about Tony’s Diner in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Tony is Tony Nicklow, and his catering company provides meals for the Minnesota Gophers football team. For Tony, acting like an owner means coming home from vacation early, missing friends’ weddings and a commitment to “Whatever they want, I never said no.”

Its Not Just About the Money

It seems likely that Tony’s commitment results at least in part from financial loss and reward. Like most owners, it is reasonable to assume that when his company does well, so does Tony. But is that the only reason? Take for example an employee of Tony’s. According to the article, “Wilson Apuparo, a cook who started working at the restaurant when it opened in 2001, arrives as early as 3:45 a.m. to begin cooking, and he stays at the diner until about 4 p.m.…The cook said he’s often so tired when he comes home he doesn’t even think about eating.”

Assuming Apuparo is not an owner, what accounts for his sustained effort and commitment? In his case, I can only speculate. But when I think of people I know who demonstrate the type of commitment “acting like a business owner” implies, it often seems to be a combination of things:

  • Personality and upbringing
  • Unusual curiosity
  • Fear of letting others down
  • Fear of letting themselves down
  • Genuine desire to serve
  • Gratitude
  • Intense desire to learn and to get better at their job every day
  • A purpose that transcends themselves

How To Bring More Ownership Spirit Into Your Organization

It is naïve to think that a leader can demand these qualities. She can, however, recognize and reward them when they’re present and look for them when recruiting. She can also recognize when an employee lacks these qualities and act swiftly to remove the employee when necessary.

Daniel Pink said it best – “The three strongest motivators are purpose, autonomy and meaning.” Work to bring these to your organization and more of your employees will act like business owners.

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