Make Every Employee An Owner

By on March 29, 2016
Make Every Employee An Owner

Are you kidding? That’s ridiculous. My employees own the company? Never.

Wow! I didn’t expect that kind of a reaction. Let me start over. Here’s a new headline:

Make every employee think like an owner

Is that better?

Well, maybe. Let’s hear your thinking…

Here’s a comment I overheard recently. One worker said to another, “Shouldn’t you clean up the equipment before you check out?” The other worker replied, “To heck with it, it’s not my equipment.

Here’s another comment. I asked a line worker if he had any ideas about how to improve the layout of his work cell. He replied, “George, let me tell you something, if they want my ideas they’re going to have to pay me for each idea.

A worker told me this story. He said that he’d asked a maintenance worker to do some repairs that were needed to get the line up and running. The maintenance worker told him: “Sorry, but I’m checking out now. Time to get out of this place.” The worker told me that because of the maintenance guy’s refusal to do what would have been a simple job, the line was down for four hours.

My wife, Dolores, and I needed help finding a faucet at a big box hardware store. We walked up to a worker who was talking sports with someone on his cell phone. He talked. We waited. Finally, he said to his friend, “Wait a second, I’ve got a guy here with a question.” With an annoyed look on his face he said, “What do you need?

Now here’s question for you, reader. Would an owner ever make these comments? I’m confident your answer will be, “Not in a million years.

Given this fact, how do we make all employees think and feel like owners?

The answer to this question could easily be the subject of a book. For starters, I’d suggest that making employees think like owners can begin to happen if these two qualities permeate the work place. Here they are:

Respect            Trust

Why these two? Because respect and trust are the primary drivers of a feeling of attachment to a workplace. When you and I feel respected and trusted we develop feelings of attachment to the place where these qualities are present. And we start to think like owners.

So how can the qualities of respect and trust be planted and nurtured in a workplace?

What it often takes is a simple but profound shift in the way the organization’s leadership team thinks about line workers. Are they seen as pawns to be cleverly manipulated but not really trusted? Or are they seen as vital contributors to the success of the organization upon whose creativity and intelligence the future of the organization rests?

Henry Ford said it best: “Success and failure belong to everyone.”

What it often takes is a simple but profound change in the way in which managers obtain the information they need to effectively do their jobs. Do they rely on computer generated reports and the comments of their direct reports in meetings? Or do they observe production on the line, engaging in focused interactions with line workers about their work, asking for ideas about how to improve work processes and listening to what workers have to say.

Taiichi Ohno, architect of the Toyota Production System, said it best: “Data is important but I trust facts more.”

What it often takes is a simple but profound shift in the way frontline supervisors interact with line workers. Is their style of supervision command and control, where it is made clear that workers are expected to work and not to think? Or do they actively encourage line worker involvement in work process improvements? Do supervisors understand the meaning and implications of Henry Ford’s observation that “Quality means doing the right thing when no one is looking?” Do they understand that the only reliable driver of consistent quality is having workers who think like owners? Workers who think of the products they manufacture as “ours” rather than “theirs”?

When an organization’s leadership team sets in motion processes that trigger and sustain line worker involvement in process improvements, when managers interact with employees on the line, and when supervisors see their primary function as being catalysts, stimulating active line worker involvement in improving work processes, when all of this happens a game changing shift in the character of the work environment takes place. Respect and trust become the defining characteristics of the organization.

Respect and trust. How powerful they are.

I’m doing consulting now at a sheltered workshop, helping them improve their work processes through the use of Lean tools like 5S, visual controls, and standard work. Recently I was videotaping the work on one of their lines. As I observed one of the employees work, repacking bottles of mouth wash, it became clear that he was very proud of the work he did and absolutely committed to doing a good job. He could be trusted to “do the right thing when no one was looking.

He said to me “Do you know why I come to work?” He continued, “I come to work to do a good job.” I asked him why he wanted to do a good job. He replied, “Because I want my company to make money.

Spoken just like an owner.

Our Workforce Solutions Group has a wide variety of resources that help transform employees from feeling like pawns to thinking like owners. One of these tools is a simple process called the Idea Board. Here’s a video that contains comments from executives and line workers on the way in which the Idea Board has driven owner thinking in their workforce.

Watch Video

I’d very much value having the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the ways in which our Lean training and consulting services could drive “owner thinking” in your organization. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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