A constant question that I get asked is whether I think there are common behavioural traits among people in business that separates the best (or, at least, the better ones) from the rest. It’s not an easy question but I think there is one that stands out. That is, that the best people in business treat company money as if it is their own money.

They constantly ask themselves – if this was my own money would I spend it like this?

I am always amused by examples of when this is not the case. Here’s a few I’ve personally come across.

I know one guy who collects restaurant receipts (not his) and claims them as entertainment expenses. Another guy likes to stay in expensive hotels which his company doesn’t allow. So he gets his local manager to pay for his accommodation bill and then he authorises the payment himself thereby avoiding the need to have his boss involved. Another guy claims “work boots” as a company expense. The problem is that he actually buys expensive dress shoes.

Others “steal time” by showing up late, leaving early and generally being unproductive and distracting to other team members. All hell breaks loose, however, if you pay them a day late…

Even more people use company assets for their own personal use “borrowing” an item or two out of the stock, stationery or sample room.

This is ok if they ask permission first. If they don’t then it’s no different to pilfering, in my view. Maybe I’m old fashioned but if they don’t own it, then it’s not theirs to take.

The worst part is that some people justify to themselves that this type of behaviour is acceptable. Crazily, some even believe they are entitled to it. Even worse, that they deserve it. They don’t. You have to pay your dues to get what you want. The minute you forget this lesson is the minute that your effectiveness declines.

A few years ago I was visiting one of my employees at his home and I noticed that he had a good supply of our company shelving set up in his back shed. I asked him what it was doing there and whether he had got permission to take it from the company premises. He brushed it off saying that it was “surplus to company requirements”.

Without a word I walked over to his brand new lawn mower, wheeled it out to my 4WD vehicle and loaded it into the back. He watched me do it with his mouth wide open and then tentatively asked me what I was doing. I told him that as he seemed to have a “fluid” attitude to the ownership of company and personal assets that the company needed a new lawn mower and this one would be perfect. He got the point…

A team that treats company money like their own is the Holy Grail in business. A prize to be nurtured developed and protected. Building a business with a team like this is a fantastically fun, gratifying, and ultimately profitable experience…