Can you MAKE Your Team Work Like They Own It?

“How can I make my employees work like they own it?” That is the question I often get from well-meaning leaders who hope to create a strong service culture. Well, the honest answer is that you really can’t MAKE anyone work like they own it. You can, however, create an environment where they want to. After all that I’ve written concerning this topic, I would like to outline, from the employee’s perspective, the access code needed to unlock your staff’s desire to work with an ownership mentality. Let us begin with a doorman in Geneva…

The Doorman

On a recent trip to the lovely city of Geneva, I stayed at the Beau-Rivage hotel, and was thoroughly impressed with a particular doorman. He was the embodiment of the word REFINED. Everything from his upright posture, to the way he walked with a sense of purpose exuded that he took great pride in his work. I noticed him removing cigar butts from the sidewalk, checking potted plants for trash and giving a hearty “Welcome back!” or “Enjoy your day!” (to guests and random people walking by the hotel). In short, he was working like he owned it, but it was also obvious that no one was MAKING him do so. Of course, personal motivation may be a factor along with his upbringing; however, I would like to highlight three keys that make up the access code that can unlock the desire to work like you own it.

Train Me…to not just meet, but exceed expectations

From the very beginning, every employee needs to know that merely adhering to standards (no matter how grand) is not their job. Their real job is to intentionally and consistently look for opportunities to surprise and delight. Here’s an example of a touchpoint table that I put together for this article:

TouchpointMeet expectationsExceed expectations
Asking the concierge for a restaurant recommendationConcierge provides a restaurant name and contact information. Also offers to call and make a reservation for the guest.Concierge goes online and prints the restaurant menu and proactively offers ground transportation (and/or driving directions). If the concierge has been to the restaurant, he/she can recommend certain dishes, etc.
Visitor coming to see an inpatient in a hospitalNurse greets the visitor Nurse finds out the visitor’s name and approximate time of arrival from the patient. Then, when visitor comes, the nurse greets him/her by name. If it’s multiple visitors, the nurse can have additional chairs in the room with extra cups for water. If the nurse knows that little kids will be coming, then have appropriate toys available.

Once the touchpoint table is done, focus on one touchpoint per week (or one per day if you are feeling ambitious). Role-play, discuss, and notice when the staff is (or is not) adhering to the standards; then, give feedback accordingly. The goal is to focus on exceeding expectations. If you want your team to exceed expectations every, then you have to talk about exceeding expectations every day.

Empower Me…to do the right thing in any situation

Saying “You are empowered” is not enough. There is a very real possibility that your employees have never worked at a place where they have been empowered. So regularly share examples of when the staff (and even you) have used empowerment to surprise and delight customers. Go on our Work Like You Own It! site and share those stories as well.  Customers judge the quality of your business by the responsiveness of the first person they come in contact with to address their issue. Once your staff feels empowered, your job is to then encourage it…on a daily basis. Since empowerment really is about “caring enough” to do something, it is important to celebrate the “caring” just as much (if not more so) as the empowerment act itself.

When I was a front desk agent, a guest called to say that their toilet was overflowing, so I empowered myself to comp their $700/night room for the remaining three nights of their stay.  When my manager found out, she could have yelled at me for losing precious revenue, but that would have only crushed my esteem and prevented me from empowering myself again. Instead, she said “Thank you for caring enough to do something”. She then seized that opportunity as a teachable moment and said, “Now, let’s discuss some other ways to handle similar situations in the future”. I was re-assured that I did the right thing by taking action and learned ways to better handle similar situations in the future.

Tell me…how I am doing

Your team craves feedback. It is like oxygen for the body. When there is no feedback, performance suffers. Feedback can be positive, constructive or negative. Positive feedback (aka recognition) is intended to let the recipients know that their hard work is, in fact, appreciated. Make no mistake, people who work hard need to know that their hard work is not taken for granted. Of course, everyone wants recognition in their own way (public, private, written, verbal, etc).

Constructive feedback, however, is letting your employees know when their performance did not meet the expected standard of performance. It is very possible for an employee to do their job improperly and not know because no one ever says anything. It is also possible for an employee to intentionally make shortcuts in their work, and the lack of management feedback is a green light that the shortcut is OK. One best practice is to start with the standard, then describe the employee’s action that did not meet the standard. At this point, the performance gap should be self-evident to the employee. Finally, explain why the standard is so important and why the employee’s action was detrimental.

Explain to your team that one of the true hallmarks of being a professional is steady consistency. Regardless if it’s busy or not. Or whether you have a headache or not…or even if your co-worker and/or boss is annoying you. True professionals have the uncanny ability to block out the “noise” and do what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it, whether they feel like it or not. If you train, empower, and tell your team (how they are doing), they will be far more likely to own it, versus you hoping or mandating that they do so.

More To Explore


Yes. Three letters. Small, but mighty. There is so much that is written about boundaries and saying “no.” Make no mistake, boundaries are essential. They

Make It Better

Who smiles when you show up? What improves when you appear? Is the room brighter with you in it? Is the team more effective with