The Owner Versus Employee Mindset


The Owner Versus Employee Mindset

Some people just want to be employees.

Photo: Getty Images

In the early stages of a company, you want everyone on the team–from your front-line employees to your partners who own equity with you–to go above and beyond toward making the company successful. You hope everyone thinks strategically and holistically about the business regardless of their functional role. Quite literally, you need all hands onboard to achieve success.

But the reality is that not everyone will have that owner mindset. And while you might be able to weather having a few employees who keep their heads down and do their job and nothing else, watch out if you have partners who think that way. Many people want business ownership, but they can’t think like owners.

Bricklayers or cathedral builders?

There’s an old story that helps explain the difference between whether someone has an owner versus an employee mindset.

Imagine you’re walking down the street and seeing three masons working on a pile of bricks. You go up to each one and ask them what they’re doing, and you get three different answers in response.

When you ask the first man, he says he is simply laying bricks. “I’m earning money for my family,” he says.

The second man sets his sights higher: He tells you he is building a wall.

When the third man speaks, he tells you he is building a cathedral. This is someone with a vision committed to something bigger than himself.

There’s nothing inherently right or wrong about these answers, right? But they give you more context for how each person perceives their work.

The question you need to answer isn’t when it comes to your team, how many bricklayers do you have, and how many cathedral builders?

Building something bigger than yourself

I was involved in a startup business earlier in my career, and I learned firsthand about this question of owner versus employee mentality.

I played a role in helping the company raise a bunch of money to get us started. But, the founder of the business was focused on only one thing: his paycheck. All he cared about was making sure he received his paycheck every week.

Though the rest of us had joined the team to pursue the dream of building something big enough that we wouldn’t need to sweat paychecks in the long run, that’s not how this founder thought. Even though he was the creative spark for the business, he could never shed his employee mindset for that of an owner.

I encountered a similar scenario with a CEO and his two partners, all co-owners of the business, and I was helping them reassess their roles. Until then, the CEO had been doing everything, from operations and selling to HR and benefits, working 80 hours a week. It turns out that he was a great salesperson. The ownership group had agreed that the CEO should spend far less time on administrative tasks and more time on generating revenue for the business through selling. But, the two partners needed to step up and take on those other tasks to make that work.

One of the partners was up for it. He was ready to do whatever was needed to help the business grow. The problem was that the second partner had an employee mindset. He wanted to work only 40 hours. He left at 5 every night and was unavailable on the weekends. He had set clear boundaries of where his job began and ended. In other words, he wanted to be an employee.

And that’s fine. But, as an owner of the business, he was laying bricks and not trying to erect a cathedral–which led to many conflicts with his fellow partners.

Success requires sacrifice

Ask the spouse, life partner, or kids of the founders of any successful business, and they will tell you that the founder made sacrifices to make that company successful. Success isn’t free. Just like building a cathedral, it can take years of hard work and devotion to bring that vision to life.

That’s why, especially in the early stages of a business, you must be thoughtful of who you bring onto the team. You need to ensure you have more cathedral builders than bricklayers if you truly hope to realize your business vision fully.

Growing your service culture

As your business grows maintaining that success is critical.  Monitoring and measuring your team, especially those involved directly with your customers, is a very important element is continued growth.  It also helps develop your team into advocates for your business, not just order takers.

We are here to help you grow your service culture.  Give us a call, we look forward to having that conversation with you.




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