Proprietary Interest

Many years ago in a hotel where I worked, I learned some important lessons from a wise man named Jock Gearhart. He was my boss’s boss, a hotel management executive and I’ve had many occasions to be grateful for him. He believed in the concept of “proprietary interest”. It’s more often used as a legal term, but he used it to mean that he wanted every person at each of his hotels, from housekeeper to GM, from bartender to CFO, to act like they owned the place when it came to providing gracious service, keeping things nice, and taking care of business in general. The idea is that if you feel like it is your own business, you will provide the best hospitality you can, and make smart business decisions. 

When I work with clients on staffing, I encourage them to hire for this attitude, and train people with the skills for it, and then empower and trust them. Challenge people to meet this high bar, ask what support they need to meet it. Waiting on the sidelines for someone with more authority or knowledge to handle things does not serve anyone well. In my view, if your service business employs people who feel like they are above, below, or outside the realm of direct and caring service, then you are missing the point of being in a service business.

Properly implemented, a proprietary interest means if a fork is dropped it will be picked up, if a phone rings it will be answered, if a problem occurs it will be solved by people who feel empowered to be of service. There will be no “that’s not my job” (firing words, in my book!). People will do their best to do things right and make things right, and if they make a mistake, they know that their leaders will back them up and re-calibrate as needed. 

Encouraging workers to have a propriety interest enhances everything, allows employees to feel trusted, invested and supported in their work, and creates managers who lead teams instead of micromanaging. I can tell pretty clearly when I’m in a place that has this attitude by the warm, caring and gracious atmosphere. That’s somewhere I want to spend my time and money, and tell people about!

Think of the places you’ve been that exemplify this. Let’s call them out and celebrate them!