Being in charge can be empowering and even exciting, but it can also be a challenge, especially when your co-workers or employees don’t take the same level of ownership as you do. Ownership is a term used a lot in the workplace, but not always in the right context. In many cases, ownership is often confused with accountability. So, before we look at why ownership is important, we need to properly define it.
To own something means you have embraced it as yours and are personally invested in the outcome. Ownership is driven by the individual, while accountability is driven by managers or leaders. When someone on your team takes ownership of a project, you have confidence that you can count on them to deliver what they have promised.
That is why effective leaders actively encourage and develop their team members to take ownership of their projects.
How can you recognize ownership?
You know an employee has taken ownership when they make promises and honor them. By doing this, the employee establishes a partnership with their leaders. It also sets the stage for them to develop their own leadership. In fact, without ownership there can be no leadership.
The alternative to ownership in the workplace is when someone accepts tasks or assignments with an “I’ll try” or “I will do my best” attitude. This is the attitude of a “doer,” and it’s common and even expected in many organizations. It’s often the approach of your most committed employees, and it’s not a bad attitude to have.
However, a team of “owners” will outperform a team of “doers” every time. This is why it’s so important for leaders to cultivate ownership among your team members.
How can you cultivate ownership?
As a leader there are three simple steps you can take to shift “doers” into the “owners” that will become the leaders of the future:
1. Ask for outcomes, not just activities
In order to get a specific outcome you must clearly define what success looks like. This means you must have results that are measurable or observable. For example, a CPA firm wanted more accuracy in its returns. Rather than set a goal of “produce more accurate returns,” the firm stopped assigning tasks to their supervisors and started defining success in terms such as “an error-free return for client 'x' is completed by 3/15/17 with no more than two partner reviews required.” This request essentially transferred responsibility for accuracy from the partner to the associate. Of course, partners welcomed as many questions as needed, but this also made it clear that a client’s return should not be passed on for review without reliable due diligence.
2. Set an expectation of ownership for a result
Once you define what success looks like, you must make it clear that success isn’t how hard you worked or how many tasks you completed, it’s the final result.
For example, say you set a goal to increase accountability in your organization. You define success as follows: “by 12/31/2016 we will increase the percent of deadlines being met from 75% to 100%.” You must make it clear that you will only reach your goal when 100% of deadlines are met. If you don’t, you run the risk of success being declared when a major activity is complete such as “everyone has participated in accountability training.”
3. Allow for negotiation
Someone is more likely to take ownership of a project if they volunteer to do it, instead of being volun-told. You can help your employee become more invested in the project with a little negotiation. While the project’s result may be mandatory, there is always something that is negotiable, such as the conditions you define for success or the date by which the result is due.
Using the CPA example above, an associate might negotiate for additional time on a particularly complex return or ask for help from a co-worker who has experience doing this kind of return. The point is to negotiate an agreement that ensures mutual success and satisfaction.
Building a culture of ownership
Cultivating ownership is not only essential for elevating performance, but also for cultivating leaders of the future. In order to ensure your managers and employees are invested in their projects, you need to clearly define what a successful project will look like, ask for 100% results, and be prepared to negotiate details.
Your turn: What requests can you make to elevate the ownership of those who work with and for you? Share your best tip in the comments section below!