A common coaching topic is how managers can encourage employees to take responsibility for their work. Some employees fully embrace their job, do it to the best of their ability, want to learn more and do more, help their colleagues, and are fully engaged. These are the direct reports most managers love.
Another group of employees focuses on the minimum. They’ll do exactly what is asked but nothing more. For example, if you ask “minimalists” to make five copies of a document and put them into five binders, don’t expect them to point out any typos or misprinted pages they might notice or to take it upon themselves to locate page dividers for the binders.
A third group of employees doesn’t want to work, won’t do what is asked, and make the workplace uncomfortable for everyone around them. If you have people in this category you should take steps to move them out as quickly as possible.
Using the analogy of housing, we could think of the three groups as owners, renters, and squatters. Owners take care of the home (or job), making no excuses and going out of their way to produce the best results. They are proud of what they do and eager to improve. Renters, on the other hand, take care of the house (or job) enough to get their deposit back. They won’t paint the walls or plant flowers unless it is for their benefit. They aren’t interested in improving the house for someone else. And when squatters take over a property (or job) it deteriorates; whether they trash it or just don’t take care of it, they leave it in worse shape than when they moved in.
Most of the clients I work with are owners on the job, and they can’t understand why others don’t approach their work with the same zeal that they do. The challenge is to identify what’s driving the mindset of renters and develop ways to turn them into owners.
I have found that renters may be in a job they don’t like or don’t feel they’re good at. They see no point in trying to add value in a job that doesn’t interest them or that they can’t excel at. By helping them improve their skills or adjusting their role to better align with their interests, leaders may be able to convert these renters into owners. Other renters simply are not ambitious; whether it’s been beaten out of them or they’re consumed with personal issues, they don’t have the drive to go the extra mile at work. Managers may be reluctant to set any expectations with this type of renter, but assigning them small, achievable goals may help them become more engaged.
I’ve also seen managers who unconsciously turn owners into renters by micromanaging them or refusing them any flexibility in how they accomplish their work. While owners are often self-motivated, leaders should examine their management approach to avoid demoralizing this group.
A leader can afford some percentage of renters in the organization provided there’s a good number of owners. Even if they’re outnumbered by renters, owners raise the performance bar for the entire group, keep the customers happy, and support leadership in growing the business by delivering above expectations. But no organization can afford to become a refuge for squatters.
Having the right team is key to your growth and success, and a bad hire is worse than no hire. Don’t be tempted to settle for renters, and definitely pass on the squatters. But how do you find owners when you are hiring? I ask applicants to tell me of a time they faced a challenge at work and how they handled it. If I hear examples of problem solving, engaging others, taking initiative, and not being content until they resolved the challenge, I feel comfortable that they are likely to perform as an owner. If they make excuses and talk about all the roadblocks that kept them from succeeding, I assume they will behave as renters and I look to other candidates.
With people spending almost as much time at work as they spend at home, cultivating an ownership mentality among your team may help those long hours seem less onerous, especially when they see their investment pay off.