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When the Cat is Away, the Mice will Play

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When the Cat is Away, the Mice will Play

The common problem expressed by many business owners is that when they are not in the office, the work doesn’t get done. And the bigger problem is that they believe the problem is with the employees…good employees are impossible to find, so on and so forth.

This is a big problem, because if good employees are impossible to find, it is the market conditions, and then there is little that the business owner can do. The business owner becomes a helpless victim, and victims can’t do much unless they take responsibility for what is happening.

Yes, undesired behaviour may be exhibited by employees, but what is it that you can do to alter the behavior of your employees? Let’s look at some solutions…

Employee perspective

Acknowledging employee perspective is a lot easier if you were an employee before you turned entrepreneur. Think of your motivation levels at that time… Did you play when the cat was away? Did you work only for salary? What was the mindset of your colleagues at that time? What motivated them?

Do you think you can implement the learnings from that phase of your life into your own current management and leadership practices? Maybe you need to think of more factors that motivated you and your colleagues to give their best and incorporate them at your workplace. It could be in the form of employee policies, or the workflow, or as simple as a fixed date for salary credit.


As a business owner, your self-satisfaction could be coming from one of the two:

    1. Making a lot of money
    2. Creating something unique or solving a human problem

If at least one of these two criteria wasn’t met, businesses would be much of a hassle, and one would be better off as an employee, who has left, and doesn’t get dragged into the various aspects of the business.

But where do the employees draw satisfaction from?

Clearly, the anxiety that comes along with the uncertainty of an entrepreneurial journey far outweighs the desire to make a lot of money, else they would be entrepreneurs – just like you. They may prefer a fixed salary to support the family and take care of other needs. Towards this, they would prefer gaining experience and doing things that have a scope in the near future. More about this a little later…

However, it is the second point that gives a clue to the business owners. Are we able to give them a bigger picture of how their work is helping someone else? Are we able to give their work more meaning by showing them the larger than life challenges they are helping solve? If you manage to highlight these factors, employees will automatically be more engaged and motivated.

Your management style

Do your employees have clear instructions to do what you expect them to do, especially in your absence? Or, do you micro-manage so much that they don’t want to do anything ‘on their own’…knowing that it will not be appreciated anyway.

Most people despise multiple rounds of iterations… They may simply not share the same levels of perfection as you. They may also get attached to their work, and see any iteration as a correction of mistakes, making them feel slightly guilty.

So giving the right amount of instructions, setting the right expectations, and telling them what you value may be the key to get the best out of your employees.

Sense of ownership

If your employees need constant supervision, it is a sign that they lack a sense of ownership. And so you need to ask: What is the right balance between ‘carved in stone’ orgnisational processes and ‘control’ available to the employee to claim ownership? After all, ownership is always accompanied by control…

You can’t own something without having control over it. So, when you want your employees to take ownership, get ready to handover some amount of control and give them the necessary freedom.

The onus of creating the right environment, where an employee proactively takes on responsibility and ownership, lies with the management. It might even mean rewarding acts of ownership shown by an employee proactively, irrespective of the results achieved. There might be certain costs to pay to bring about this behavioural change.


I read somewhere that human beings have a ‘craving’ to be appreciated. It is not just a desire or a wish but a craving. Recognition from others – be it in the form of awards or authority given or designation – feed directly into our self-worth. With self-worth comes confidence to make decisions, take charge and attempt new things. This further enhances the sense of ownership.

Career growth

Along with appreciation what is critical is the financial growth, as we discussed earlier in self satisfaction. It is possible only if employees are getting a chance to learn new things that will be relevant or become relevant in near future. While thinking of career progression an employee thinks in the wider context of market, independent of the employer.

And, of course, we want our income to grow at a faster pace than inflation. But, increments are not the best of ways to beat inflation. Promotions go a long way to fulfill financial desires.

Hence ask, are your employees getting adequate career progression in your company? It should be from both perspectives – being in sync with the changing times/technology and having more responsibilities. If the career progression is not clear/available, it is rare for a good employee to look forward to the work, or even feel motivated for a long duration of time.

What next?

Above are few aspects one needs to consider to ensure that the mice work even when the cat is away. But this in itself will not give permanent results. The permanence is determined by how you do things on an everyday basis. That means you have to focus on:

    1. Your organisational culture, which is built upon the points we discussed above
    2. And the people who join your organisation

You will have to build a culture that best suits your organisation values and customers. And ensure that the new employees that join your organisation fit into this culture.

Cost of inaction

As a leader, you can’t achieve much if most of your time is spent in giving instructions and managing petty stuff.

People management is important, but that largely implies developing your people, rather than wasting your time handling the operations. Otherwise, most of the time slotted for business development will be spent on people management.

So let go of those tight reins, instead build ownership and leadership, and watch how your employees work with enthusiasm, even when you’re away.


If you want to grow your business by bringing in sense of ownership in your employees, reach out to us on contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Madhukar Kumar is a leadership coach and believes in the philosophy of “Know Thyself”. His non-judgemental listening coupled with thought-provoking questioning has helped his clients to uncover authentic leadership. This article is conceptualised by Yellow Spark and written by Madhukar.