Why won’t they act like owners?

Dear Ken Keller,

How I can get my employees to act more like owners? My employees are hard-working people, productive and loyal. But every idea for improvement comes from me and I’d like for them to take some ownership as to how we can improve the company.

Paul S.

Dear Paul,

Your employees aren’t interested in being owners of your business. Ownership is far more difficult than being an employee. Individuals who are employees don’t want the hassle, the headaches, the risk or the uncertainty of ownership. Employees seek a steady paycheck, security, and a place to learn, contribute and grow.

Individuals join a company and are often told their input is welcomed and necessary for the company; that their opinions matter and that they will be heard. This idealism is crushed when management and ownership pay lip service to these words. Employees learn is that they are to be seen and not heard.

Be grateful for loyal and productive people on the payroll. This is an asset to utilize to engage your employees to become business partners and not costs to be reduced or cut.

If you do not now have a gain-sharing program that is where I recommend you start. My clients have used these kind of programs for years yielding great results.

In the case of my clients, each owner established goals for each department to accomplish for a six month period. The goals were specific and measurable and focused on cost reductions and productivity improvements.

The departmental goal was broken down so that each individual had goals. Everyone was eligible for a share of the departmental award and their own individual reward. Individual checks were handed out at a company lunch monthly after accounting closed the books.

Over time, my clients were able to transform their businesses through this. Employees become more engaged, more focused and took ownership of the cost reduction programs and productivity improvements.

These programs were launched during difficult economic times when it was not possible for the companies to give employees raises. Gain sharing results were considered better by the employees compared to raises because the employees had control over the amount they could earn.


Dear Ken Keller,

My sales team is not very good at prospecting and they are also less than diligent about follow up. I first thought I had some lazy individuals working for me but there may be other reasons why sales are slow.

Charlie P.

Dear Charlie,

This is mid-August, so you need to check and see if everyone on your sales team has taken time off for vacation. Is anyone on the team burned out? Ask.

Your responsibility is to turn things around. This may involve letting some people go, but you aren’t there yet.

Get back to basics with each sales person, teaching them what they need to learn, re-teaching them when necessary, making your expectations clear, setting goals with each person, and staying on top of each individual to make certain that they are following through.

Sales management is your job, and it has to be an all the time thing. You must lead by example, and give your team all the support, tools and backing they need to be successful. At the top of your list should be a review of the total prospecting effort including follow through.

Most of your time should be spent going on joint sales calls, reviewing proposals, planning and leading sales learning sessions and one on one coaching for performance improvement.

When your team sees that you are all in and are serious about leading them, the best will step up and the others will move on.


Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.