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5 Ways Corporate Culture Can Help Employees Think and Act Like Owners

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

If you own or run a business, you have a clear idea of how you want things carried out in your organization, and you’re probably a pretty good role model. You demonstrate your work ethic and initiative every day, so your staff should be able to follow your lead.

And yet, you may often find yourself watching in frustration as employees behave entirely differently than you would in the same situations.

Perhaps they make a short-term decision that is counter to what’s best for the company, or maybe they aren’t putting the level of energy into their work that you do. Or they seem to lack confidence and are paralyzed about how to handle an issue.

Why, you’ve probably wondered, can’t my employees act more like me?

Some will tell you that if you want your staff to act like owners, you need to treat them like owners. While that may be true, you can’t just flip a switch and put employees in the driver’s seat. Most people wouldn’t know how to respond to that.

Employees need to be coached and encouraged on multiple levels to develop an ownership state of mind.

If you want your staff to behave like owners—teach them how it’s done.

How to Use Culture to Solve the Problem

When employees are incentivized through profit-sharing programs or ESOPs they’re likely to take a stronger interest in their company’s level of success. But as motivating as these initiatives may be, they don’t automatically create an owner’s perspective or characteristics.

To foster a CEO mindset in staff members, business leaders should reflect on the attributes that made them successful and how they acquired them. Then they should look for ways to instill these qualities and skills in their employees.

The key to assisting team members achieve this level of thinking is a robust corporate culture.

5 Ways to Help employees Act Like Owners via Culture
1. Foster Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is the connection people feel for the place they work. The Gartner Glossary describes it as the extent to which employees:

  • Feel passionate about their jobs
  • Are committed to the organization
  • Put discretionary effort into their work

These things are automatic with most CEOs or business owners—it comes with the territory. But an employee’s engagement can range from “I love working here” to “it pays the bills.”  Their degree of passion and commitment translates directly to how much effort and initiative they apply to their job.

One of the best ways to drive employee engagement is for leaders to acknowledge workers’ value to the company and how their role fits into the overall strategy. This includes making sure team members know the part they play in meeting goals and overcoming challenges.

Executives can also strengthen the bond and demonstrate confidence in team members by keeping them informed about business plans and being open and honest about the realities the company faces.

Leaders who build a policy of transparency and respect into their company culture lay the groundwork for making staff feel proprietary. It helps people develop and maintain a sense of purpose about their jobs.

While strong engagement alone doesn’t create leaders, employees won’t think like owners without it.

2. Strengthen Empowerment

Workers will never think and act like owners if they don’t believe they have the power to make decisions. But giving someone authority without parameters can backfire. Empowering staff to take action should be coupled with training and accountability to prevent poorly conceived or rash behavior. 


Employees’ everyday behaviors, good and bad, reflect an organization’s culture. The chief executive can profoundly affect their company’s culture by defining positive, effective behaviors that will make their business and staff successful.

These preferred behaviors should be the basis of any company training to help employees learn how their boss would approach situations at work.  By routinely practicing and discussing these behaviors, staff will begin to acquire the same mindset and decision-making skills exhibited by their CEO.

This culture-based training will enable them to envision how to achieve the best outcomes when responding to issues and then take the appropriate action. Team members will appreciate the ongoing opportunity to grow and learn how to think more like leaders.

Circling back to engagement, a recent study by PwC found that the benefit most valued by many employees is training and development. People are more vested in an organization that helps them expand their capabilities.


Business owners and CEOs are gratified when their companies are successful. The best leaders also hold themselves accountable when things go wrong. The power to make decisions is balanced by the responsibility to own the outcomes of those decisions.

Leaders should help employees view responsibility the same way when giving them the authority to make important choices. In fact, accountability should already be the backbone of the company’s culture. Asking them to take ownership of their actions is a lot more effective than telling them they’ll have to answer to the boss if things go wrong.

Teaching employees to hold themselves accountable helps them think from a CEO’s perspective.

3. Don’t Preach, Teach

For the sake of expediency, it’s tempting for leaders to simply tell people what to do—or worse, just do it themselves. It may seem quicker to meet short-term goals this way. But preaching to employees or working around them will cultivate a climate in which problems are always pushed upward. How is that helping people to behave like owners?

CultureWise founder and CEO David Friedman makes this observation in Culture by Design:

“As problem-solvers, it’s our natural tendency to want to jump in and start taking action, to give direction, and make things happen. But this is when we need to slow down just a bit and recognize the teaching opportunity that has been presented.”

It takes more time, but it’s far more effective to coach people to think objectively and strategically for themselves.

When employees come to the boss with a problem, the leader should respond by asking probing questions that encourage them to consider how to solve it. They should get them to think out loud about scenarios and outcomes, applying the appropriate behaviors outlined in the company culture.

If leaders teach instead of issuing orders, employees are likely to figure out the best course of action and have the confidence to successfully carry out their tasks. Eventually, staff members will need less direction and will through this process on their own.

4. Create a Blameless Atmosphere

Of course, giving employees guidance and then the freedom to make decisions isn’t going to prevent mistakes from happening. When they do occur, ideally that’s when self-accountability kicks in and the people involved find ways to remedy the problem and learn from it. That’s what an owner would do.

But employees won’t have that kind of healthy and responsible attitude if they’re worried about being blamed for their actions. Too often, staff members are afraid to make decisions or cover up mistakes because they work in a blame-oriented atmosphere. And the finger-pointing usually originates at the managerial level.

Mike Staver, author of Leadership Isn’t for Cowards, says that executives need to take a firm stand on eliminating blame in their business to cultivate leadership qualities in their people. 

“Removing fear and establishing a take-responsibility culture begins with the leaders. But for the followers to adopt their leader’s fearless attitude, it’s imperative they understand their leaders are on their side and want them to win.”

No executive got to the top of their profession without making mistakes. But valuable lessons learned from errors were a healthy part of their development.

To help employees grow into leaders, business owners should allow them to make decisions and teach them how to have a solution-focus when mistakes happen. There should be a top-down emphasis on blameless problem-solving.

5. Provide and Ask for Feedback

Employees won’t know if they live up to their boss’s standards of conduct without helpful feedback. After team members have taken the initiative to make decisions, receiving confirmation that they made the right choice is empowering. And constructive criticism helps them course-correct so they can grow from the experience.

When done correctly, review and debriefs are part of a mentoring process that can help staff assume ownership mentality faster.

And feedback is a two-way street. Often employees don’t think like owners because they feel like their opinions aren’t valued. Leaders should ask for and listen to their staff’s points of view about how things should be done.

Employees are more likely to think like their boss if they’re encouraged to have a voice. Their ideas will help everyone focus on continuous improvement—which is always on an owner’s mind.

These kinds of positive communication and feedback loops form another aspect of a strong company culture.

Culture is the Key

One of the most gratifying feelings for a business owner or CEO is seeing their staff demonstrate the same kind of pride, commitment, and “all-in” attitude as their leader. And the benefits go beyond reinforcing the owner’s belief in their company and its mission.

When they use company culture to help employees develop a proprietary mentality, things improve across the board.

  • Team members gain much stronger job satisfaction and self-confidence about what they do—which strengthens retention.
  • Their abilities to think outside the box, respond to change, and deliver results are enhanced.
  • The more they think like owners, they’ll build skills that create a rising class of company leaders.
How CultureWise Can Help

David Friedman created CultureWise to help business owners and CEOs build a company culture that reflects their perspective about work and drives organizational success. The system assists executives in prioritizing the behaviors they want to see in their staff and gives them the tools, curriculum, and support to teach and reinforce them.

CultureWise helps leaders create an exceptional company culture that develops strong, confident employees.

Explore the website for more information and try out the free demo of the CultureWise app.

The CultureWise system was inspired by Friedman’s book Culture by Design, in which he details his eight-step framework to develop and sustain a high-performing company culture. Heralded as “a must read by any CEO,” the book is an invaluable resource for leaders who want to take their company to the next level.  A two-chapter download of the book is currently available.

For more articles about business culture, sign up for a complimentary subscription to Culture Matters, the CultureWise blog.

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