Renters versus Owners

An engaged workforce can dramatically improve an organization's performance and conversely disengaged employees can be the poison that ruins an organization.  Many organizations, especially large ones run an annual or bi-annual employee engagement survey to measure the level of engagement in their organization.  If designed properly and administered well these tools can provide a good gauge of employee engagement.  The problem is that too many of these tools are designed to measure employee satisfaction 

rather than engagement.  Additionally they are expensive and time consuming to administer.  Most importantly the organization must be prepared to share the results and take action.

A number of years ago while working with a leadership team, I posed a simple question as a gauge of employee engagement.

"Are you employees engaged as renters or owners?"

"Nobody ever washes a rental car

This simple question spurred a long healthy debate and discussion which served a very similar purpose to a comprehensive engagement survey.  Think about the analogy.  Do you rent or own your home?  Does it make a difference in how you approach the upkeep, the pride you take in it, the amount of money you spend on improvements, etc.  It really does make a difference in your attitude if you own your home versus rent your home.  This is even more true when it comes to cars.  Ever hear the phrase, "Nobody ever washes a rental car"?

Using the renters versus owners analogy to discuss employee engagement can lead to a very powerful conversation.  Employees who take a renters mentality are often wasteful with company resources such as supplies.  They don't clean up after themselves, they are hasty when making company purchases and they don't always treat the customers with the respect they deserve.  Employees who feel a sense of ownership tend to go the extra mile to do right by the organization.

In one session that I used the renters versus owners scenario an astute member of the leadership team spoke up and offered a third category which he referred to as "Investors".  Some people buy property as an investment, while technically they are owners, their purpose for ownership is not to make it their home, but to turn a profit.  This third category can lead to an even more interesting discussion about employee engagement.  Many Generation X and Y workers have a very different mentality about work.  They have no intention of staying with one company for their entire career.  Instead they are more like the investors.  As long as the job is paying dividends they will remain, but when they see their return on investment peak or diminish they know it is time to move on.  The dividends they are looking for are more related to advancement, learning opportunities, quality of life than they are just about salary and bonus.  Although compensation is still an important aspect.

A renters versus owners versus investors discussion with your team can yield some very important insights.  First you will quickly learn if the team is aligned around the cultural issues.  Second, the analogy makes it much easier to probe deeper into the difficult subject and may even lead members of the team to admit their own feelings.  Lastly and most importantly, the team can use the analogy to begin to find ways to drive employee engagement and make the workforce more "bought in".