Originally published on Entrepreneur Magazine on January 2, 2018.
Do you remember the very first car you owned? The one you bought with only your money? Can you recall the make and model? What color was it?
Now that you have that image in your mind, what was it like going to sleep that first night? Did you check on the car in the middle of the night? Did you clean it obsessively? Did you tell others they could not eat in the car? This is called ownership. Ownership is a feeling whereby what you see as yours is wholly different from what is not yours.
The rental car test.
Let’s compare the feelings towards your last rental car to the feelings towards your first car. Can you even remember your last rental car? What color was it? I am guessing the feelings you had for your rental car are not even close to the same feelings that you had for your very first car.
That is because you don’t feel ownership of the rental car. Yet you are just as responsible for the rental car as you are for your own car. You have to pay for it if you wreck it. You have to pay if you scratch it. But when it is yours, the feeling is quite different. You may feel responsible for the rental car, but you will never feelownership.
Now let’s look at how the feeling of ownership applies to our companies and our role as leaders.
Ownership beyond the founders.
Would you rather your team members treat their projects and your clients like you treat your rental cars? Or, would you rather they treat their work the way you treated your first car? Which one of these is likely to establish the kind of problem-solving and innovation that you need to activate new levels of company growth?
You want them to treat their work, their projects and their departments, as well as the client experience, in a way that fosters ownership. In fact, after years of coaching leaders of hyper-growth companies that are growing at 200 percent (or even 400 percent) in a year, they have clearly made a shift that slow growth companies have not made. The shift is a transference of ownership that goes beyond the founders or the business owner to the whole team.
Recently, I had a chance to talk one-on-one with 51 CEOs of the fastest growing private companies in America. On average, these companies have grown 2,731 percent over the last three years. I asked them questions about their challenges to hyper-growth and what their teams looked like in sales and marketing.
But one question seemed to really open up the conversation to the foundation to their revenue growth: When the company growth goals are big and bold, how do you get employees to take responsibility for the company goals at an individual level?
This one question has been an obsession of mine. So much so that I have shifted my entire business around the idea of hyper-growth and the six disciplines that drive fast-growing companies. In fact, I look at how companies that are growing fast have cultivated the entrepreneurial spirit inside the company.
The insights by these fast-growing visionary leaders have shown me the path. Let me share with you the one concept that makes the individuals inside the company take complete responsibility for company growth. It is two words…
The visionary leaders I talked to said that they get employees to “own it.” This relates to everything they do and how they behave. Ownership inside of the business beyond the founders is essential to our current economy. Decades back when most workers were following a prescribed list of steps day-in-day-out, all you needed was for them to take responsibility. They would do what needed to be done. They would be there for their eight hours and not have to think of work beyond their time at work.
Now, however, the problems that businesses face to continue to be competitive and to serve their customers requires a new level of thinking. The challenges and innovations to grow are not solved in eight hours. The brain is solving the problems when away from the work too.
Many of the companies have built their culture to reinforce a sense of ownership. Here are a few examples from the more than 50 companies included in this study.
Neeraj Singh, CEO of BigBinary, whose company has grown 537 percent in the last three years, said that in the early days of the company he would work on projects from beginning to end. Now he says, “Our employees have a sense of ownership with the projects that don’t require me to be there as much as I was.” Singh can focus on leadership instead of doing the work.
Carvana is a disruptive force in buying cars and has grown 7925 percent over the last three years. Their CEO, Ernie Garcia, shared that ownership comes from the team being part of the mission and vision of the company. Garcia said, “Our employees know they are creating value in the world and contributing to the business. This gives each person a sense of ownership.”
Don Caroll, VP of business development for Vantage Point Logistics, creates new opportunities in the world of logistics through its employees. They have a phrase that drives the whole company: Own it. This is about owning your piece of the business. Caroll said, “Our growth over the last three years of 3422 percent comes from employees that ‘own it’ in every way.”
If you want your company to serve your customers the way you would, your job as the leader is to get them to feel ownership. Ownership is more than responsibility. In fact, you can say that the gap between responsibility and ownership is similar to the difference between how you treat a rental car and your very first car. Think about it.