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How to Inspire an Ownership Spirit Among Employees

Ever wished your employees shared the same level of passion for the business that you have? It's a widespread desire among business owners, yet not everyone has been able to find the formula to make it happen.

Leaders of some of the best small workplaces have, by creating cultures where employees work with this kind of passion and cooperation. In these organizations, we've found that 94 percent of employees report a willingness to give more than is expected of them and 93 percent say they can count on each other to cooperate.

Short of giving employees an ownership stake, how can you inspire this level of passion at your workplace? The following practices may offer a path to follow.

Video: Marcus Erb: How Can I Find Dedicated Employees?

Connect employees to the big picture. 
Helping an employee to understand a business's strategy and situation allows him or her to look and act beyond their role. When leaders at Radio Flyer, the Chicago-based maker of children's toys, wanted all 55 of its employees to better connect their individual efforts with the success of the company, they launched an initiative called "Connect-the-Dots" -- a three-part program geared toward educating employees about the business. One part consisted of an internal class, called "Wagon U 102: Driving Our Economic Engine," which discussed how the company defines and measures financial success. Radio Flyer executives also broadly communicated the five company objectives for the year along with related metrics for each department. Upward communication was jointly employed as each department reported its impact to the business back to fellow employees.

Related: How to Assess your Business's Goals and Objectives 

Reward employees who go beyond "the norm."
Nothing can quell people's desire to give extra than not feeling recognized. At Badger Mining Corp., a unique team approach ensures its 156 employees are rewarded for going above and beyond. Associates at this industrial mineral mining company belong to a "core" team, the one for which they were hired. In addition, they are encouraged to join cross functional teams, such as the "Retirement Plan Team," "Wellness Team" or "Safety Team." All teams are open to anyone interested in joining. Work on these teams becomes part of the performance evaluation process with employees gaining "extra credit" for joining and active participation.

Related: The Best Ways to Reward Employees 

Make decisions and debates transparent.
When employees have the full context about a decision and the options considered, they are more likely to support it regardless of whether they agree with it or not. At Bridgeway Capital Management, a Houston-based investment management firm that employs 33 people, leaders use an innovative meeting structure called "Fish-Bowl." The sessions are used to flesh out new proposals and educate staff on key decisions. A small group of employees sit in an inner circle to learn from one another on a controversial topic or idea. This group commits to "inquiry" on the subject as opposed to advocacy for or against the topic. Employees ask questions, explore the idea, flesh out any issues and learn about the subject. All remaining employees sit on the outside of the "fish bowl" and educate themselves on the idea while holding those on the inner circle accountable for listening, inquiring and being open and supportive to the new idea or issue. The result, they say, has been a quicker adoption of new and radical ideas.

Related: Five Tips for Making Better Decisions

Collaborate on goals and decisions.
A highly participative workplace yields better buy-in for decisions as people more fully support ideas they help create. Decision-making at Bridgeway often involces a combination of voting, consensus and/or delegating. For example, its human resources committee will design and recommend HR-related proposals, which will then go to the entire company for a vote. Depending on the magnitude of the decision, the vote will either be a super-majority vote (85 percent or more), a majority vote (50 percent or more) or a consensus driven decision in which objections are asked for but no formal vote is required. This shared decision-making extends to the company's annual goals as well. Using a unique process, all employees provide ideas for goals for the year. This list is then narrowed and ultimately voted upon by all employees, with each person having 100 points to vote for the top 10 goals.

In the workplaces that have achieved a workforce of owner-minded employees, those workers often habitually step outside their role for the sake of the business's objectives. These cultures adapt faster to change and develop innovative ideas that lead to new product and market opportunities. And let's not forget they allow business owners to rest a little easier at night. 

Marcus Erb is a senior research partner and senior consultant with the Great Place to Work® Institute. He focuses on the financial services, manufacturing and health care industries.
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