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Gears Magazine | Ownership is American
Success Strategies - July - 2017

Ownership is American

The American Dream has always been about freedom and ownership. The Founding Fathers debated the following statement for our founding documents: “Life, Liberty and Property,” and ended up compromising with the words, “…and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness in this context meant achieving satisfaction and meaning in what you do.

That’s what property does. The reason property is so important is that ownership brings discipline and accountability with it. People seek property and, when they get it, they take care of it.

Last week, I was delivering speeches in China and was reminded of how important ownership can be. I have a book that I’d like to translate into Mandarin to sell in China, but my agent there reminded me that, the moment the book hit the streets, it would be pirated and sold by copiers.

You see, in China there is no ownership of intellectual property and, for that matter, very little individual ownership of many types of property. That leads to a subculture of corruption and the erosion of trust.

What this means to you is, the more you can “own” your work, the more you will take pride in what you do and apply yourself to doing it well. If you’re a shop owner, this means giving people both responsibility and authority.

If you’re responsible for quality assurance, then you need to have the authority to shape the decisions that affect quality. If you’re responsible for billing and payments, then you need the authority to help establish policies and make decisions about transactions. If you’re responsible for certain phases of a service job, then you need the authority to set up your work style and work space so that you can deliver the best service possible.

Why is it important for technicians to own their own tools? Because they’ll protect and care for their tools far better than the tools of others. They’ll also be more careful and thoughtful about which tools they buy and which ones they don’t. If it’s someone else’s money, hey, let’s buy some more tools! Ownership matters.

Amway’s cofounder, Rich DeVos, once told a story about Communist Russia when the government owned all the farmland. An experiment was done in which some farmers were given their own limited parcels of land.

What they discovered is that those who worked the government-owned farms would shut down their equipment at dark and go home. But those who owned their land would turn their tractors’ lights on and work on into the night. The private farms were far more productive than the government ones!

How could you get your technicians to take more ownership of their work? What kind of agreements could you make with them that would allow everyone to have more of a piece of the pie?

I’m not talking about giving away equity. What I mean is structuring things so that if John does the work, then John gets the recognition and rewards for doing it well. He also gets the consequences of doing it poorly. If there’s no downside for poor performance, then there’s no real ownership. Rewards and consequences are necessary.

This isn’t a new concept for the auto repair industry: Years ago, most shops had their best technicians on “piecework,” where they were paid directly for the work they delivered. And when a job came back, they were responsible for fixing it, without earning anything more for the additional repairs. So a technician’s paycheck was tied directly to productivity.

These days, some shops offer a commission or bonus, once again based directly on the work they deliver. The best workers generally earn the most money because of the additional bonus they receive.

Of course, as we’ve discussed in the past, very often what’s more important than the extra dollars is that extra recognition for doing good work. In each case, the exceptional employees reap the rewards for a job well done. And that makes both the employer and the employee happy.

I wish you Life, Liberty, and Ownership so that you’ll achieve Happiness.


Jim Cathcart is a strategic advisor to ATRA and a valued contributor to GEARS. You can schedule him as a speaker or acquire his many books by simply visiting Cathcart.com or searching for “Jim Cathcart” online.