Michelle de Haaff

When you own (or are in charge of) a business, it becomes a close family member — you’d do anything for it. From tireless days and sleepless nights to unpleasant decisions and difficult problems to resolve, you’ll do what you think is right. You’ll take out the garbage if you have to. And you’d sooner stay at a motel than a 5-star hotel if it saves the company money. You are the face of your company, and you know just how important each and every one of your customers is.

But you’re just one person. As your business scales, how do you get your employees to also become “owners” of your business, embody those positive traits of owners — and do what is right?

Hire Owners

A lot of longer term effort can be saved simply by making sure your recruiting process is designed to screen for qualities of a good “owner.” These could include an entrepreneurial spirit, self-starting mentality, responsible or self-accountable mindset, big picture awareness, and a take-initiative attitude. And possibly even someone who has owned their own business and understands what it is like to be an owner.

Let Everyone Know the Lifetime Value of a Customer

Unless you own a mortuary, your goal with every customer should be to make them into a returning customer. If they don’t, you are missing out on significant revenue. What’s the lifetime value of your customers? Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles calculated that each of his customers could bring about $12,500 into his business over their lifetime. He uses this figure as the north star for his business, reminding employees that the cost of even a single, bad customer experience can be HUGE. If employees understand this, they will also understand the impact of their positive or negative behavior towards a customer.

Provide Transparency into Customer Data

Once you’ve calculated the lifetime value of a customer and communicated it to your employees, it’s good to reinforce it with actual data. A great way to do this is to connect your customer spend data with individual customer feedback and loyalty scores — and actually give this data to your customer-facing employees. By doing this, you’ll be able to show the direct connection between customer experience and spending behaviors.

Don’t Put a Line in the Sand

Chris Zane doesn’t hang the lifetime value of customers over the heads of his employees — he empowers them to protect it. Much like at Nordstrom, Zane doesn’t set a limit to what lengths he’s willing to allow employees to go to delight or rescue a customer. Whether that means giving away products or services for free — or tracking down a customer’s hubcap on the side of the road.

Give Employees a Get Out of Jail Free Card

Letting employees have more ownership over their work and the decisions they make when interacting with customers will help make them into owners, but it can also lead to honest mistakes. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep them from going the extra mile for customers. To stave off this fear, Extended Stay’s CEO, Jim Donald, instituted a program that gives employees “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for them to use in the event that they make a mistake when serving a customer. And by just giving employees the opportunity to make a mistake, the Extended Stay teams started to take chances to create great customer experiences and ultimately created innovation in everything from offering clothes washing services to changing how they viewed the competition.

Host a Morning Huddle

Whether every morning or once a week, bring employees together and give them a chance to share stories of the successes they’ve had interacting with customers. By exchanging and celebrating successes in this way, you not only highlight strategies for other employees to adopt, but also provide encouragement and incentive to employees who might be less engaged.

Collect Employee Feedback… and Actually Do Something with It

Lots of companies survey their employees — chances are you’ve taken at least one such survey — but many of these same companies don’t use this feedback in ways that are transparent to the employees themselves. If you want your employees to be owners, then let them know that their voices are heard and can actually create change within the company.

Flip Your Organizational Pyramid

When we think of traditional hierarchies, the CEO (or owner) is at the top — followed by the rest of the company’s leadership. Nordstrom makes its employees into owners by turning that traditional pyramid on its head. They’ve identified the most important people in their organization — those that interact the most with customers — and they’ve put them in charge, so to speak.

Make Your Employees Literal Owners

Though not all companies are in a position to do so, an increasing number are actually giving real ownership of their companies to employees via stock options. This helps inspire employees to see the bigger picture of the company’s health and growth as well as provide incentive for them to do their absolutely best work.

If you can start incorporating some of these practices into your organization, then you’ll end up with happier employees, happier customers, and a stronger business.
Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg