Give Employees a Sense of Ownership

Share your company's history with your employees in order to emotionally connect and create a bond with them.
Author, Profit First
January 23, 2012

Surely you have a possession you really care about—a baseball, a sports car or an autographed Bee Gees album with a signature across Barry Gibbs' chest.

Let’s pretend you have a treasured car. Other cars have been no more than a means of transport—but not that car. You would never sell it unless your children were held for ransom. I'm sure you've had many albums, or baseballs, but they're all replaceable. Not the baseball from your first Red Sox game, or the album with Bee Gees song that was on the radio the first time you kissed that special someone.

You have an emotional attachment to these items.

Other people may not understand your attachment. If you were to sell your own special item, the next owner would not appreciate it like you do. The more history and stories you know, the more value you put on the item.

Consider the popular TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive. These people have a serious illness, yes, but it's a magnified part of human nature. Most hoarders are willing to let go of a lot, but there's something that they won't give up. Perhaps it's an old military dress uniform that came from their grandfather. Or a coat their older brother wore just before he shipped out. That person will fight tooth and nail for that uniform or that coat.

You need your company to be that uniform, that baseball, that album, that drum stick. How do you do that? Make a personal connection between your company and your employees through the company's stories.

If you want employees to truly sense ownership in the company, let them in on the history. Share the struggles that the company overcame to be where it is today, the fragile beginnings. Explain how they are an important part of the history. Let them know that individuals past, present and future rise to the occasion to make the company great.

Don't think it'll make a difference? The guys at FedEX would beg to differ.

Of course you know FedEX—chances are you use the service often. It's wildly successful now, but the company started as a C-level term paper written at the last moment. Through the perseverance of CEO Fred Smith, however, the company has blossomed into a household name. How did Smith keep his employees faithful during its many downfalls in the early days?

He kept them involved. When FedEX flew its first load of packages into Memphis, he was standing alongside his hardworking employees, celebrating their success.

To be fair, that first delivery was a flop and only six packages arrived, but the employees felt ownership in the company. They worked hard to improve the business, and at the next attempted delivery, 186 packages arrived and FedEX was operational.

Would FedEX be where it is today if it weren't for those employees who had a vested interest in the success of the company? It's a fair bet that it would not.

When Fred Smith started out, he had little support: His business plan was thought to be a bit too out there. But with the employees' support, he and they created one of the most inspiring success stories of modern business. Every new employee is made aware of these stories.

The history of tough times, just like the story of how that prize possession became yours, gave all the new FedEX rank and file a sense of ownership in their company. They have a loyalty and purpose they would not have experienced if the stories were never shared.

Now it’s your turn to do the same. Let your employees in on the history of your company. Tell them the stories of the beginning. Make them excited to be part of something great, and show them they're important.

Get your employees to feel a sense of ownership in your company. Your business, too, will be an inspiring success story chock full of proud employees.

Author, Profit First