At Your Service: April 1, 2009

Last fall I cited as an example a business owner, call him Roger, for his customer-centric approach to problem-solving. This week I learned that Roger is not the owner of his business. When I played back our conversation in my mind I realized that he had never said that he was the owner – what was remarkable, even more so in retrospect, was his attitude.
When Roger speaks his conversation is peppered with “I,” “we,” “me,” “mine,” “us” and “ours;” “they” never comes up in discussion about the business or its services. He operates as if the business were his own. This makes him an invaluable resource to Mike, the real owner of the business. Roger’s attitude tells us more about Mike than it does about Roger.
They say that ownership has its privileges, but it also carries heavy responsibilities. For this reason, many small business owners are reluctant to delegate. When things go awry, and something always does, the owner will be held accountable. On the other hand, sharing responsibility and accountability with staff affords opportunities for growth and development of both the individual employees and the business.
It is often remarked that people just want to make a difference. This is true in small ways and large. Studies report that people who experience “making a difference” on the job are generally happier than those who believe that their work is of little consequence. What tasks and work are actually being done has little or no impact on whether people experience being fulfilled – the sales clerk can have as rewarding an experience as the EMT.
The thing that makes the biggest difference in people’s work experience is whether they consider themselves to be a stakeholder in the outcome of their work. The experience of ownership significantly increases employee and ultimately customer satisfaction.
Employees that operate as if a business were their own perform their job more productively. They spend less time watching the clock and more time solving problems. They are more likely to do a task well the first time, eliminating return visits. They listen closer to customer questions so that their answers address specific needs. In short, they provide better services to customers.
It would seem like it were a no-brainer then for every business owner to encourage their employees to act as if the business were their own. But, it takes courage to delegate enough responsibility to employees for them to experience being a stakeholder. It requires a level of trust that says, “You do what you believe is the right thing and I will suffer the consequences when you are wrong.” Because even though you can delegate responsibility, there is no delegating the ultimate accountability. You cannot fire employees for making a bad decision.
We know, without meeting him, that Mike has confidence in his employees and lets them know that he trusts them. When I met him I discovered that he is quite easy-going – the kind of relaxed personality that is dressed impeccably, even in jeans and a shirt, and makes sure that every “t” is crossed, “i” dotted. He impressed me as being a person I would not want to disappoint – perhaps Roger and his other employees feel the same way. Mike’s attitude is contagious in many ways.