Employee vs. owner mindset

Are you “just an employee”? …
or are you the “owner of your job”?

Now, this may seem like an arbitrary question, but there is a fundamental shift in attitude if you are an owner of something. Anyone who owns a car will understand that you cannot fix that knocking sound by simply turning up the volume on the radio as you (allegedly) can in a rental car.

I have the privilege of working for a dynamic, specialist consulting business where I have been able to see the impact on careers where employees have exhibited the owner mindset. This is of course only possible if they are given the opportunity to thrive, to innovate, to make mistakes, and to be supported by a leadership culture that encourages learning and development.

In my experience, it is – without a doubt – those employees who have cultivated the owner mindset who have excelled and gone on to greater successes.

What is an owner mindset?

An owner mindset is one where employees are personally invested in the fortunes of the organisation. Where their drive comes more from an alignment of values than from the financial reward attributed to the job itself. It is a mindset that drives decision making, where sustainability, cost reduction and big picture thinking are all included in the process, especially when no-one is “looking over their shoulder”. It belongs to those employees who choose not to just turn up the volume on the radio.


For some organisations, creating the owner mindset is easy. What better way to align employee and shareholder interests and create an ownership culture than to make employees shareholders themselves? Having skin in the game helps to drive innovation and alignment to the business itself. In our business, culture and value alignment are key and one of the ways that we have created that culture is to make everyone an owner and the results have been remarkable.

For the majority of organisations, however, making everyone a shareholder is neither practical nor desirable – so what else is key to improving shareholder alignment and creating an environment where the owner mindset can thrive?

Company imperatives:

Actively seek out recognition opportunities

Let your high potentials know they are being noticed. I would wager that the leading reason for employees getting stuck is that they don’t recognise their own potential. Many of these employees, although they possibly don’t have a proven track record, may be exhibiting the appropriate competencies to you. These competencies need to be encouraged and resulting actions celebrated by letting them know the strengths that you see in them.

Empower employees

Firstly, there is little doubt that employees looking for success, emulate their superiors to some extent so ensure that you live the values that you wish to be embraced. That said, it is imperative to empower employees to build their own successes. Set the bar at a reasonable height and allow employees to get their wins before inching the bar up. Realise that making mistakes is part of any growth journey.

Career conversations

For many years we have been running culture surveys and career pathing always features as a top driver of employee engagement. In my experience, the number one lever in getting employees to full advocacy and company alignment is co-designing a career path aligned to their competencies.

Embrace feedback

Allowing ideas to formulate in employees’ minds and encouraging avenues for them to be expressed means that organisations need to be able to embrace diverse thinking. This is challenging with a top down “my way or the highway” approach to managing a business. By being receptive to feedback that may be different to your own perspective, you are encouraging employees to think like an owner and challenge the status quo. If you are brave enough to do this, you will be surprised at how much “richer” an outcome can be.


Agility in decision-making is one of the greatest differentiators in an owner-run business. In my view, one of the finest value propositions of working in our organisation is that everyone has direct access to the leadership team. There is no greater reward than seeing one of your ideas getting rolled out with the full support of the executive team. The more layers there are between idea and execution, the more unlikely it is that the environment will be primed for the owner mindset.

Build a performance-based reward model

The benefit of linking remuneration to performance outcomes is that it allows ambitious employees to be the masters of their own financial destiny to a certain extent. Even those employees not driven by money will recognise the importance of this differentiation. We have found that when an organisation doesn’t link pay with performance, the effect is an organisation-wide decrease in performance levels and an increased risk of talent looking elsewhere for opportunities.

Employee imperatives:

Be proactive

Employees “wait”, owners “make”. Employees are used to waiting – waiting for the boss to hand out work, waiting for direction, waiting to get paid. A key element of stimulating an owner mindset is to start by taking ownership of your own role. See it as an important part of a whole. One that is influenced by and influences other roles. Make decisions that will benefit the value chain and ultimately the business. Be willing to ask questions to understand more. Banish any thoughts of “it’s not my job” forever.

Be accountable

“No one ever excused his way to success.” – Dave Del Dotto. Excuses are a sure way to hamper your growth and prevent you from developing that owner mindset. Embrace an “if it is to be, it’s up to me” mantra.

Be consistent

Everyone has bad days when they struggle to perform at their best or, in some cases, even turn up. In crafting an owner mindset, you need to treat your role as your own business. Consistency of energy, mood and performance is critical when aligning your behaviours to the organisational culture. Your superiors, colleagues and clients need consistency from you – they need to know what they can expect.

Embrace learning

Employees with an owner mindset revel in testing their limits. They take initiative by embracing new challenges. In this way they demonstrate a desire for more experience, the motivation to improve and the confidence to succeed. Make it a priority to enrich your skillset by trying new things, learning about related roles and ultimately how those roles benefit the business.

This article is not about championing one mindset over another, and organisations are filled with countless wonderful employees. It is, however, my observation that those employees who have the attitude of “owning” their jobs are far more successful (and more happy!) than those with a “just an employee” mindset. This is certainly true in our high-performance business where balancing working hard and playing hard creates an environment where the owner mindset can thrive and where “turning up the volume” is a metaphor for amplifying effort and performance.

Written by:

Craig Raath
Executive Director, 21st Century

[email protected]

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