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Act Like An Owner

You know how most organisations have 'Our Values' displayed on their walls and websites? Well, if you know me, you know these words are so much more than words. In the course of my research for my second book, 'Workplace Culture and the NDIS', I found an incredibly powerful 'Value' actively driving daily behaviours in two very different, very successful, mission driven organisations. Here's an extract:

Time and again, when conducting research for this book I came across the phrase ‘act like an owner’. It’s a phrase more commonly found in the language of small business than in the disability sector. But it’s a phrase that deserves more attention.

If the new key relationship is the one between the frontline support worker and the customer, imagine the quality of that relationship if that support worker was empowered to think and act as if the organisation was actually their business.

Bringing people into the fold requires complete transparency around your business processes and direction. Clearly, this requires a strong alignment around core values.

If your employee has the capacity to think like an owner, it can change the whole power structure and communication flow. It basically means they’re a problem solver; they act as if they are where the buck stops, and you begin to see genuine frontline innovation that is co-designed with the customer.

Robyn Kaczmarek, Co-Founder and Cooperative Development Officer at The Co-operative Life, Australia’s first worker-owned cooperative in social care, shared this approach in her interview. For Robyn, getting people to think like an owner was ‘the key pin’ for her business success:

'It took me five years to understand that…It’s not that we’re a cooperative; it’s because we’re helping them to think like an owner. I had the idea that ownership was the key factor – that came from the cooperatives. It comes down to the business being owned by the employees.’

Sean Dempsey, CEO of Plan Partners was very specific about the qualities they look for in people when hiring:

They have to have resilience; they must be able to cope with some of the very challenging situations that we find our customers living with, and they must have an enormous dose of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. They have to also be a problem solver. We often use the phrase, ‘We will be part of the solution and will not allow ourselves to be part of a problem’.

This ability to solve problems, to own an issue, and to act like an owner requires an entirely new approach to the recruiting process. It’s not surprising that Plan Partners lists one of their values as: ‘We Own It’.

Adopting an organisational value that encapsulates this problem-solving ability – this level of personal ownership and accountability – will actually enable your employees to more easily adapt to change, provided they are also entrusted with the freedom to respond.

You can download the full transcript of my interviews with Robyn and Sean on the Free Stuff page of my website. Thinking back on it, it's no surprise they share this value and it's no surprise that both organisations are experiencing amazing growth.


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