Act like you own the place

20/12/2013 16:17


If you could replace your body or body parts as often as you liked, how would you live differently?

I like “Act like you own the place”, not with the usual connotations of arrogance and swagger, but with a more positive slant, investing, taking responsibility and acting with a long term view. You could substitute ‘the place’ with a whole variety of different nouns to make the phrase more applicable to your life and illustrate the point… your body, the company you work for, the house you live in…

How do we behave differently living in a house we own, compared to one we rent, or even to in a hotel where we’ll stay for just a few nights? If you need to replace the carpet or plumbing in a house you see as your temporary residence, you’d think quite differently about the investment than if you thought you’d be living in the house long term, or permanently.

A longer term view

If I really take ownership and hold myself responsible for the performance of my body, how would I live? I would eat well, and think more often about the long terms effects of what passes my lips, rather than the shorter term “does it taste nice?” or alternatively, “is it spoiled? will it make me throw up?”; I would probably not insist on pushing my body past its limits – I am just old enough to experience the frustrations of old injuries (which were preventable in the first place) come back to haunt me; generally, I would treat my body much better than if I had a shorter term view or were not forced to personally invest in my physical wellbeing. I would also know my body better, so would probably need far fewer medical opinions and interventions, and so allowing me to “own” my body even more fully… a virtuous circle develops. So, by acting like I own my body, feeding it well and exercising as I feel I can and should, I think I’ll be better off in the long term than if I abdicated the responsibility for caring for and training it to someone else, such as a coach or a doctor.

Personal Investment

How about my children? If they know that when they break their toys they’ll be immediately replaced with newer, shinier versions of the originals (of the toys, not the kids), how do they treat them? How would they treat their toy if they know that once it’s broken, that’s it? My children treat toys differently if they’ve been involved in creating them – whether it’s a cardboard cut-out, something they’ve painted and glued or something that came flat packed and had to be assembled. If they have invested into it, and feel some kind of ownership, they tend to treat it carefully, and with more respect than toys that they have acquired with no effort.

Considering how we behave in short term or temporary situations and the contrast to a long term view, companies would do well to have their employees thinking more long term. Ideally staff should think of the long term health of the company in terms of financial or other tangible investments, as well as less tangible investments like culture, brand and reputation. An ‘investment’ from each member of staff could create loyalty; it could encourage personal responsibility for performance, accountability for failure and a true pride in success. That investment from each member of staff could come from spending time teaching or mentoring, working on a project that they are not directly remunerated for; it could be investing in relationships, making friends and creating an emotional attachment to their workplace and their colleagues. Margaret Heffernan calls it creating ‘social capital’.

If we really all ‘act like we own the place’ at work, do our best for those who trust us and behave with our legacy in mind, rather than trying to get paid as much as possible before moving on or just coming to work for the salary that pays the bills, workplaces could be very, very different.

However, in order to “act like you own the place” you have to be allowed to do so.

Autonomy and freedom…

In so many companies there is a stark misalignment between talk of empowering people and the reality of suffocating micromanagement and bureaucracy. It is not enough to tell people to make decisions, but then meddle when they try to do so. My kids would not feel the same emotional attachment to their miniature airport if I had told them they should go ahead and build it from flat pack and then, at the first inkling of an impending mistake, I took the pieces out of their hands and ‘showed them how to do it’.

… but with guidance

Just as meddling micromanagement is not the way to instil loyalty or encourage accountability, neither is hands-off management with no support. It is not enough to tell people to make unguided decisions and leave them to live with the consequences. People must want to make those decisions, and to want to take responsibility for the outcome, knowing that they will be recognised… either in failure or success, but they often need advice and guidance along the way. My kids would have trouble building their flat pack airport with no help or guidance, and it’s likely that it would not turn out as they’d like; having inexperienced people take decisions businesses with no guidance from seniors may not turn out as anybody would like.

So, from living with your body to bringing up children and managing employees, could we do a better job if we encourage the confidence to use judgment, and give freedom to do so – to really “act like you own the place” - but be sure that there is counsel and support if and when needed.