Courtesy of Mark Labourdette

For the past two years, at national and local trade conventions, I have given a 90-minute presentation showing how companies can achieve a culture where employees behave like owners. Two things have become very clear. First, all company owners want and desire this discretionary effort from employees. They strongly desire that employees think for themselves, solve problems, and share these solutions with other team members. Second, few have any idea of how to go about making this happen.
The first reaction I get from owners I speak with is “Oh yeah, we have that. I have great employees.” Yet, further discussion shows me all the symptoms of a culture that is counter to that goal.

Owners talk about being involved in everything, micromanaging, and controling. Or I hear owners, or managers installed by owners,  telling everyone what to do via their job descriptions or trying to control everything with systems and procedures.

Don’t get me wrong, systems and procedures are important, but they do not create a culture that has your employees inspired to act like owners.

As for job descriptions, they are limited to a task orientation. You can’t include every circumstance, they are rarely read, and they do not give the desired result of discretionary effort. Plus, they are counter to getting the employee to think for him or herself because you are, in effect, thinking for them by telling them what to do through the job description. Trying to get discretionary effort from an employee with job descriptions is like handingn automobile driver a car manuyal and expecting an Indy 500. At best you will get a few superstars (a dying breed) that have that inborn drive to succeed.


One definition of “culture” is “The behaviors and actions of your employees when you are not there.” The truth is most companies in America can be summed up as “command and control” cultures. When the boss is not around employees act and think as they are commanded and controlled to. The typical employee does not feel empowered or energized to behave with the same passion and drive as the owner. Why should they?  Most owners have not given the employee the opportunity or room to be a leader. Most have not created a culture in which everyone feels empowered to contribute and grow or even been asked to take on these roles.

So what to do? To start the change process, owners have a number of hurdles to overcome: 1) To gain control you must give up control -- some owners simply can’t do this.

2) Be willing to install systems and procedures of accountability that are not driven by you, the owner, and be patient (not a strong suit of most)

3) Do some reflective reading to change owner behaviors that are roadblocks to their desired results.

4) Bring in help to learn how to manage and also get the needed buy-in from employees

Are you up to the challenge? If so let’s start the dialog. Send me an e-mail and tell me two things

1) What is your culture?

2) What do you have in place that allows your employees to step up and behave like you, the owner: How do you empower them?

Mark Labourdette has owned Design Build Specialists, Inc., a San Francisco remodeling firm, since 1980.