Career Advice: Act Like You Own The Place

Photo: Joi

There is a lot of career advice out there. I should know—I wrote a whole series on Being a Better Employee.

It's filled with some great, helpful tips—but there's one big one I missed.

If you really want to stand out and get ahead at work, you should look around and model yourself after someone that has already made it: the owner.

Does that mean you should start bossing people around and picking on the most insignificant details to torment your coworkers with? Nope, wrong again.

Don't Act Like the Owner: Think Like the Owner

There's a difference. As an employee, you have to worry about your little sliver of job and how it might fit into the bigger slice of pie that is the company.

If you think that's stressful, think about what the owner has to think about:

  • Every single employee
  • The future of the company
  • The revenue
  • The competitors
  • How to lower costs
  • How to increase profits

The list could go on and on.

My point is this: you don't have to worry about these things because you're not the owner, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Start thinking like the owner and you'll see how quickly your perspective changes.

Owners don't check out at 5 o'clock because "the day is over."

Owners don't take a day off because they want to go to the beach.

Owners don't get caught up in the minutiae of everyday office politics.

Is it because they're better than the rank and file? Nope.

They just have bigger fish to fry.

Take More Responsibility

By acting like an owner, you should take on more of that responsibility. Trust me, the owner will appreciate an employee that is not only doing his/her job effectively, but is also worrying about the bigger picture. It will make you look better and it will also change your perspective on your job.

Take the example of Amazon employees that took the light bulbs out of their vending machines—they saved the company $20,000 in electricity costs. Guess who noticed? CEO Jeff Bezos.

So where should you start? The good thing is that owners have so much to worry about that you could pick any one of these "problems" and figure out a way to improve on them:

  • Costs
  • Employee morale
  • Competitors
  • Office politics
  • Technology solutions
  • Efficiency (my personal favorite)

The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

Start thinking like an owner today—it will make you a more valuable employee and it will give you some idea of what it's like in case you want to start your own business some day.

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Guest's picture

Nice article, but the contradiction of having the title be "Act like you own the place" with the next heading being "Don't act like the owner..." kinda made me want to quit reading through the rest. The title could have just been "think like the owner".

Of course, the skeptic in me (and 20 years experience) tells me that's all "good for the company", but personally you'll rarely if ever see any return on that investment. Maybe I was unfortunate in the companies I chose to work for, but I can't remember getting rewarded a single time for any savings, inventions, or improved efficiency. That's just "business as usual" I guess. Having been a small business owner for quite some time, I very much enjoy my clever ideas to create efficiency. Because that extra value being created is mine to keep and use as I see fit. (Extra cash for me, grow the business, etc.)

So the next level of that advice would be... "Don't think like the owner - BE the owner". Admittedly of a much smaller pie, in the beginning at least. But you get the idea.

Guest's picture

Excellent post. But I'd like to follow up on what the first commentor said.

I have to agree that in large organizations the strategy might not work. What might happen is that you'll end up taking responsibility for the work of others and not get recognized for it. That can be a bottomless pit!

However, even if management doesn't notice or acknowledge your efforts, your coworkers will notice it, and when they leave the company they'll remember you fondly, and refer you for jobs in their new organizations. That's always worth the effort. People don't usually think of this, but your first effort/best at networking is to be good at what you do, and be someone who can be counted upon by others.

But that said, in a smaller organization, where you have regular interface with the owner(s) of the company, I believe the strategy outlined in the post is totally possible.

Guest's picture

This is the goal of providing employees with equity as part of their compensation. Evern since I got equity 10 years ago, I've thought like an owner because technically I am an owner. I focus on costs and profitability for the longest time, and I've been loyal to my firm for almost 10 years now.

Ownership culture is key. It makes me want to pick up the trash in the hallways, and always keep striving for a greater good.

Financial Samurai

Guest's picture

Over the last 10 years at 4 different companies, I've only seen owners do the following:

Skip every Friday afternoon to go golfing

Go AWOL with no notice for entire days - not answer phone/email

Ask employees to work extra with little/no overtime pay

Live by the 'dump and run' policy of delivering product to customers just to get paid by them - and cleaning up quality issues later (by having employees work extra hours and not pay overtime compensation)

Call all the employees out to the parking lot to show off his new Porsche (this was during the time when we had gone more than a month without a single day off - not even weekends - with only partial overtime pay)

Laugh off sexual harassment as someone just 'being too sensitive' and telling them to 'lighten up.'

Telling entry-level employees to 'lay off the crack. I know what you do on the weekends.' Just to scare them.

I think I could handle acting/thinking like the owners - but I've got something called a conscience....

And sometimes I wish I was just a minion back in the corporate world instead of in these small companies where I at least feel like I make a difference in an industry - when I'm not dealing with resenting the actions listed above.

Guest's picture

Personal anecdote that may or may not be pertinent. In my first "real" job I was the guy pulling the late hours, never taking a sick day, giving it a 110 percent. A coworker right beside me took all his sick days, had strict boundaries about when he was done with work, gave it probably 90 percent. He certainly was much less stressed than I was, made just as much, and probably has no regrets. Older and wiser now, I'm much more aware of work-life balance and the intelligence of finely-calibrating one's effort to one's pay and opportunity for advancement. Hard work isn't its own reward, but easy living is.

Guest's picture

this is a great post. the points that you put across are similar to the book that napoleon hill wrote about the secrets of the self made millionaire. the it means that the things that one has to do to be successful are the same universally. great post btw

Guest's picture

Right on, you're about about finding tech solutions and discovering ways to increase everyone's efficiency. The heads will take notice. They will praise you in front of the others. :) thanks for sharing!


Guest's picture

Hey Porter - Check it for some great advice! Don't think like an Owner, think like a Boss!

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

If you work at a place where putting in this kind of effort and getting these kinds of results gets you nothing but run over, then you need to find a new place to work.

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Guest's picture

I've seen many people (employees) act like the own the whole place going so far as acting like security guards, sounding entitled, not caring wether the customer is happy or not but is more on the look out for profit and all it earned them was a complaint from me to their higher ups as well they stay in the same position for years and years because they know nothing but acting like they own the place. This information is for the dumb to benefit the rich and smart.

Guest's picture

employees always complain to their owners when they worked late, vocation cancelled, or don't pay resonably, if we become the owner one day, we might do exactly like the owners, so try to think like the owners.[img][/img]

Guest's picture

It really depends who is the "boss" and where you are on the hierarchy. In big corporations, your "boss" is just another employee. Somewhere along the chain of command, one will appreciate your effort. But do you want to risk the thorns of going thru & pass the others along the way. Moving to another company is like having a card shuffle which you might just end up in a somewhat similar position.

After more than a decade of work at nearly 2 handful of companies, I agree with Bobby about "work-life balance" and "Hard work isn't its own reward, but easy living is.".

What took me so long? Thinking like the owner.

Guest's picture

I think you'll have a hard time acting like the owner if you don't really care about the mission of the organization. It's a matter of authenticity.

If I really care about and believe in the mission of my organization, I will automatically think about the big picture and give it my all. And the reward will be in the results for the clients or customers. Nothing beats that kind of satisfaction in a job.

When I worked at Carleton University providing computing services to students in the early days of the internet, my biggest satisfaction came when students said the hardest part of graduating was having to give up their Carleton internet account.

So, I think the most important thing to do is find a job that you find truly meaningful and fulfilling.