Teach Employees to Think Like Owners by Scaling Down to Two Divisions

Excerpt from “The Entrepreneurial Culture, How to Engage and Empower Your People” by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey (Footnotes Press, LLC, 2014).

As a leader, you’re hyper-focused on your company’s productivity, profits, and growth. Wouldn’t it be nice if your employees were as focused on those factors as you and the company’s other executives? Sure, they do what you tell them. They come in every day and perform every task within their job descriptions. But often that’s where the buck stops. If a problem lands in their laps that isn’t what they consider to be “their responsibility,” they pass it on to the next guy or they bring it to you expecting a solution.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach your employees to think and act outside of their job descriptions—to think, in point of fact, like owners! At Barefoot Cellars, we found that the key to turning worker bees into solutions-oriented entrepreneurs was simplifying our structure into just two divisions: sales and sales support.

The reasoning behind this decision is simple: Everyone in your company gets paid from sales. Without sales, there is simply no money to pay salaries, bonuses, or benefits. Ergo, sales are the target every employee should be aiming for, and the goal everyone should be supporting. So even though they each have important, specific functions to perform, your employees in production, accounting, marketing, legal, and so on are ultimately sales support.

If you don’t make a few more changes in how your company operates, though, splitting your company into these two divisions will be worthless.

First, make sure every single person in sales support knows how his or her job affects sales. When non-sales employees are too isolated and don’t have a big-picture view of how your company operates, even their well-meaning suggestions and efforts are likely to be unhelpful. For instance, a suggestion to decrease production time ultimately might affect the quality of your product. Or a promising computer projection might not accurately reflect conditions in the field. Or even a new piece of marketing material (that everyone in marketing loves!) may not be practical at the retail level.

Specifically, watch out for these five phrases, which often preface well-meant but unhelpful suggestions from sales support people:

  1. “Why don’t we just…?” This is how suggestions to cut costs usually start. The suggestion itself indicates the speaker doesn’t know why we “don’t just.” A thoughtful discussion usually will result in many answers to this ageless question.
  2. “Why do we have to…?” This usually is followed by a suggestion to make the speaker’s job easier, thus reducing labor costs. This question may indicate the employee doesn’t really know or understand why they must do this or that. There are many subtle quality indicators and nuances in your product or package that they may not realize exist, but that give your product the edge in the market.
  3. “If we just cut this out, we could save…” And then, they do the math. This is usually a simple multiple of a small savings times the number of units sold. Beware! This line of thinking assumes that sales will at least stay the same, or even increase. (And you know what they say about assuming.) The truth is, isolated money-saving ideas may hurt sales in ways the employee knows nothing about. Keep in mind that savings are rarely as simple as a mathematical formula. By discussing the need for what your employee suggests cutting, you both will come to a better understanding of what is necessary to make sales happen.
  4. “I just came up with this great idea!” Some suggestions stem from your people’s desire to make their mark on your product or package. Sometimes their motive is career; sometimes it’s based on a desire to be more like your competition; or they may think, “It’s time for a change.” Whatever the case may be, though, remember that your product’s uniqueness may be the very advantage that distinguishes it in the marketplace. Consistent packaging and logo designs are critical to your product’s image of dependability. When it comes to effective change, the watchword is evolution, not revolution.
  5. “This will increase sales.” What your marketing people design on their computer screens may look fine to them, but until it has it been field-tested, whether or not it will “work” is an unknown. Marketing is expensive, so think carefully before funds are spent on a new idea.

Second, find a way to link pay for sales support to the performance of sales. When we began giving our sales support people bonuses based on quarterly sales amounts, the entire office began actively rooting for the salespeople who were roaming the country, because their paychecks depended on their colleagues’ success! In short order, Barefoot became more efficient, more responsive, and even closer-knit. Instead of moving forward in separate boats, our employees were now on the same ship. They knew they all needed to row together—and they did!

For instance, if a salesperson in Michigan needed statistics to convince a storeowner to place an order, the office staff hustled out a report. If our crew needed signs and posters for an event in Seattle, the marketing folks jumped right on it. If Barefoot won a gold medal in Orange County, staffers made sure shelf signs were printed and in the hands of Southern California Barefooters the next day. Income was at stake for everyone.

Owner-like thinking happened on a smaller scale, too. Our people began to look for everyday ways to save time and money, such as holding off using the color copier if they didn’t really need it.

We think you’ll see similar results if you commit to a two-division model, and ensure that each employee’s salary is directly affected by the success of sales.

One last piece of advice: Be sure to support owner-like thinking in your company by creating a culture of permission, in which your employees feel free to experiment, take chances, and even make legitimate mistakes as they seek to come up with out-of-the-box solutions and innovative improvements.

Excerpt from “The Entrepreneurial Culture, How to Engage and Empower Your People by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey (Footnotes Press, LLC, 2014).

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the founders of nationwide bestselling brand Barefoot Wine, New York Times bestselling authors, international keynote speakers, and corporate trainers. For more information, visit http://thebarefootspirit.com/about/

The authors will present a Webinar, “The Barefoot Spirit: Engage and Empower Your People to Ignite Sales,” on http://www.TrainingMagNetwork on February 25, at 1 p.m. Eastern. To register, visit http://www.trainingmagnetwork.com/events/538