Employee Engagement: It’s Getting Workers to Think Like Owners

© imageteam - Fotolia.com
© imageteam - Fotolia.com

What, exactly, is “employee engagement?”

After checking the Internet, I learned that “engaged employees” are those staff members who feel good about the company they work for.

And “engaging” them reminds ‘em to like their job without a bump in pay.

I think I get it. We just renamed “happy workers” because fresh phrasing is fun. The real issue hasn’t changed with the new name though, has it?

Caring like the owner does

What we’re really after is workers who care as much about the business as the owner does.

And why do we want that?

Because these engaged employees are more productive; they’re better with the customers; and, they increase the bottom line.

Well, I’m not sure we’ll ever get someone as completely engaged as the owner is, but maybe we can get close.

Look first at some traits the owner has:

  • They go the extra mile;
  • They’re efficient;
  • They care what customers think;
  • They know that time is money.

Here’s how you engage employees

Those are the traits we want our employees to have, too.

So here’s the question that all my HR heroes out there want answered: How do you engage employees?

Here’s how: by being human, and, by teaching them what the owner knows.

Being human, that’s the leadership part. A leader makes our work life bearable and interesting. If your company’s missing that part, look up for the answer, not down.

I really want to talk about the other part, about teaching employees what the owner knows.

If you ask me, a lot of gurus and training programs just don’t get this part. Until Jim Bob the line worker knows WHY a good work ethic is important, and understands WHY it’s in his own best interest, there’s little point in a Monday morning all-staff morale meeting.

Following through and rewarding workers

You see, people tend to do what makes their life easier, or somehow better.

Article Continues Below

If they think helping a customer only affords the boss a new Mercedes, they don’t see the point. But when they learn that — and you have to be prepared for this — helping the company succeed is rewarded (financially or otherwise), they’ll see the light.

But we also have to follow through on our end and reward the employees who DO help the company succeed. Maybe that’s the part that’s missing. That’s a different article for sure.

So why don’t we teach what we really want them to learn – a good work ethic?

Instead we teach specific skills: customer service and teamwork. That’s like teaching the 7th grade girls’ basketball team how to post-up in the box. They don’t even understand the point of the game yet, so why bother teaching them a rebounding technique? It won’t matter.

Once they do understand the game and realize that getting the ball is essential for winning, the rebounding will come naturally.

A reason for them to feel ownership

If you show your employees that success at work comes from feeling ownership in their company, customer service/time management/hard work will naturally follow. They already know how to do these things; what they need is a reason to do them.

That reason will create the employee engagement we seek.

That reason is learning what their boss knows about success.

Teach those traits that the big boss has and reward your staff for caring about the company — not necessarily financially, but by caring about them back.

Now, THAT’S employee engagement.

David Sneed is the owner of Colorado-based Alpine Fence Company and author of Everyone Has A Boss – A Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, husband, entrepreneur, author, and teacher, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the personal benefits of a strong work ethic to entry-level employees. Contact him at David@EveryoneHasABoss.com.


17 Comments on “Employee Engagement: It’s Getting Workers to Think Like Owners

  1. Being human, I like that – a lot. It is true, some HR departments never get to interact with the employees. I think that it definitely negatively impacts employee performance. If you want engaged employees you have to engage with them as well.

  2. What seems blindingly obvious, people have a hard time understanding so glad you pointed it out. Next step-take action!

  3. I 1,000% agree! For years, I have seen “Employee Engagement” plans that include pizza parties, BBQ’s etc. These lead to employees that have a good day, yet still don’t end up engaged and managers don’t understand why going out of their way to try to be nice doesn’t equal results.

    I have found that teaching line level employees what a P&L is and showing them how similar the company’s top line, expenses and bottom line mirror their own personal life, there is much more understanding as to why they need to perform. Once that is established, employees can see how their own P&L (labor, bonuses, etc) are directly related to their performance at work. I then let the employees create their own plan. More often than not, the Pizza parties are thrown to the way side and employee create plans to generate more revenue and profit.

    Pizza parties are great and still need to happen, but they shouldn’t be confused with employee engagement.

    1. Jeff: very interesting perspective. Do you actually have the leaders sit with employees and go over P&Ls – curious to what level this is done. PowerPoints… how often. What type of forum? Regards, Renee

      1. Hi Renee, I have used a PowerPoint before but it loses the personal feel. I prefer using a dry erase board. I will do my very best to break down what I do on this thread, but it will be very clunky as opposed to my class.

        I write down the bullet points of a very basic P&L on one side of the board and the corresponding items of the employees life on the other. I then ask them to give me examples of each to make sure they understand and write their examples down. I will put examples in parenthesis and the end result looks a little like this…..

        Revenue = Paycheck
        Margin = Take home pay
        Labor/ Bonus = Personal Spending (Date night, concerts, nails done, designer clothes, etc.)
        Occupancy = Rent & Utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.)
        Operational costs = Necessities (food, clothing, toiletries, etc.
        Profit = Savings

        I then ask them what they would do in their life if their Savings Account is depleted. I work my way up from the bottom and ask them how much would they be able to cut from each category. It doesn’t take long to understand that if they aren’t making enough profit that the “Labor/ Bonus” or “Personal Spending” would be cut the most drastically. I actually make them decide which items they want to cut and cross them off.

        Once they have cut things off I ask them “Why would you cut any of the stuff you love off your list. Why wouldn’t you just figure out how to get a bigger check and deposit more money in to your savings account?”. This generally turns into the”A-Ha” moment where I turn the meeting and planning over to them.

        I of course guide them a little but the end result is a team that understands the importance of their performance and results. They understand why they have to not only generate more revenue, but profitable revenue. They have a say in their plan and have buy in as well. They own the results, just like they are the owner of the business.

        Hope that helps,


  4. Employees only act as owners when they have a stake in the game – owners go the extra mile because the results impact their rewards. There are some great new gaming type systems that directly reinforce and reward engagement as measured by bottom line results.

  5. One way to get employees engaged is to create an atmosphere where they are empowered to act like the owner. Powerful concept! Assuming that the “owner” is interested in create a customer focused company, this short article has some excellent
    ideas and supports the concept that engaged employees are more productive, care
    more and deliver a better customer experience.

  6. Thanks for the article, David. I would add that placing employees in the right role is also extremely important for their engagement: many times employees are in roles where they are not utilizing their strengths and it takes much longer for them to see great achievements. Getting to know our employees and placing them appropriately, utilizing their strengths and motivating them to do something they like, will help getting to the rewarding results.

  7. Such a well written article and likewise, echoing some of these comments. Maybe I’m cynical, but it just isn’t as easy as we would all like/hope to think. Obviously it depends on the industry and individuals, but too often we have boneheads that may be good at what they do, but seek shortcuts in their lives, which potentially can lead to a counter-culture of positivity. There are also those Machiavellian individuals who mislead and can rip a culture apart without the owner/upper management even being aware…

  8. You’re missing a crucial point: owners get to do what they like with the company’s profit, including giving it to themselves. Employees don’t. Until you fix that, you’ll never get the same levels of commitment from employees as you do from owners. It’s all about the incentive.

  9. That’s well said and very true. But, how do you make them feel like they own the company?! What makes them want to see the company grow? The owner cares actually jumps through hoops for them, offers oodles amounts of learning opportunities, they are being rewarded with residual boni and an amazing resource center! What else will you have to provide? Is it really as easy as one great business speaker says? “Fire 2 of them!”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *