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Ownership at Work: How to Get Your Employees to Care as Much as You

admin January 23, 2016

How can you get your workers to care as much as you? Ownership at work is indeed the issue that any companies, even Fortune 500 companies, can encounter every day.

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Ownership at work is a simple business concept that, however, many employers and employees misinterpret. It is defined as an attitude of excellence, achievement and expertise. Attitude is the different maker in every task that the worker does. Employees with the ownership attitude will do everything to the best of their ability. They are also willing to learn, to become better and do not settle for just getting by. Instead of “just do it”, “just do it right” is their calling card. Doing their best in their jobs, volunteering for difficult assignments, and holding themselves accountable for the success of your business are their standard operating procedures.

Developing an “ownership” culture, your company will benefit a lot.

Benefits of “ownership” culture

What would it be like if each of your workers took full responsibility for their jobs? It would be like as follows:

•  You can count on your workers to: perform the job proficiently without having to be reminded or reprimanded; define potential problems, think through solutions and come to you with suggestions; not make excuses; notice their own impact on others’ morale and take action to not just better their own attitude but make their co-workers’ lives easier.

• When you gain trust and confidence in your workers, you will have time to do exactly what you should do – planning, strategizing, thinking, rainmaking, etc.

• Your workers would feel more valued and engaged, leading to fewer turnovers and more loyalty. There would be more opportunities for professional growth.

How to develop “ownership” culture

We may have heard some managers tell an employee that he needed to take ownership of his job. When the confused employee asks how to do that, the answer was, “If you don’t know how to take ownership of your job, you should not be working here.” Fearful of being demoted or fired, the employee said he knew and quickly hid.  He then asked other employees, and just got different versions of answers, adding to his uncertainty. That may be a common example in not few companies. The employees have not made a commitment because the corporate culture has not made the same commitment. Rather, many companies have not really stepped up to ownership at work by defining it in writing and communicating what it is. They have failed to cultivate it and clarify the benefits and rewards it brings.

The name Michael Armstrong is probably familiar to many of you. He is an American business executive and former AT&T chairman and CEO. There is one saying of him about accountability you should know, too: “The ancient Romans had a tradition:  Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible:  He stood under the arch.” How can you get such accountable employees who sure contribute to your business success? Below specifies how manager can step up to job ownership so that their workers will step up and become shining stars:

1. Give workers something to own




Though this sounds obvious, often the first hurdle that workers face in taking job ownership is not feeling encouraged or allowed to do so.

That means you can’t be a micromanager. Give your employees space to take care of their jobs instead of just executing orders. Smart companies allow their workers enough space for decision making, problem-solving and creative thinking to attain the outcome. The online shoes company Zappos is an obvious example. This company sets overall guidelines and then allows its workers to express their individuality within these guidelines.

Assigning authority is an important though, true responsibility comes from the feeling not only in charge but also encouraged and empowered to do what is right in the way that the individual feels is the best. Give your worker a task to do and tell him it is of him, tell him to use his best judgment to get it done. He then will care it because you trust him and he trusts you.

2. Clearly establish expectations and define what success looks like




Define the end goal – what end result you want your employee to achieve – without dictating everything they must do to attain it.

By focusing on the end goal, you show that you trust your workers, and that trust empowers them. Trust is the key part of getting workers to take ownership of what they do. Employees that are given responsibly are more likely to take responsibility.

So let your worker know clearly what end result you’re expecting and give them the trust that they can reach it.

3. Provide constructive feedback




Let your employees know what they are doing and give them the coaching they need to improve. Though they may not always ask for it, they want and need your feedback to hone their skills. Sometimes they even need a reality check to know whether they are being on the right track to the goal. You can set up a system for tracking and following through with them.

4.  Make every job the most important job in your company

Just be fair. Don’t be too biased toward any job, or else you will make some of your employees feel underappreciated as opposed to other employees. For example, the famous Russian director Constantin Stanislavski once said, “theater begins at the cloakroom”. He meant that his audiences must enjoy the magic of his productions right in the moment they stepped into the theater – from the ticket taker to ushers who shows them their seats. To do so, he engaged everyone working in his theaters. Whether they are working the front door, the theater bar or starring in the production on stage, they all were the contributors to and the owners in the final product.

All great leaders would help every worker see the importance of their job in the larger mission of the organization. The quote by the famous Polish aphorist and poet Stanislaw Lec works like wonder in this case, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”    

5. Encourage genuine input



Vietnamese farmer Mr. Pham Van Hat created machines that helped a lot with his Israel boss’s farming business. This was thanks in large part to the fact that his boss listened attentively to his creative ideas and facilitated him realizing them.  Read this full story here.

Every worker has ideas, and one of differences between workers who care and workers who don’t is whether they are allowed to share their ideas and whether their ideas are taken seriously. If the leader rejects their ideas without consideration, they may immediately disengage.

Not just putting out suggestion boxes, great companies ask leading, open-ended questions. “Should we do this, or this?”, that is not what they say. Instead, they say, “Do you know how we can make this better?” When probing gently like that, they help workers feel comfortable giving their ideas of how to get things done. And when an idea isn’t feasible, they always take the time to explain why, which often leads to the workers coming up with an even better idea.

Workers that provide ideas (input) clearly care about the company because they want to make it better. Make sure that their input is valued, and they will care even more because now it is not your company – it is our company.

Related reading:

Exactly How to Get Honest Feedback from Your Employees

6. Make it Ok to fail

Job ownership is connected with the need to experiment, fail, learn from mistakes and try again. It is part of the journey to job accomplishment and business success.

If your employees are told to take ownership at work and then get reprimanded by management for making a mistake, you are failing to promote job ownership and at the risk of losing your employees. Indeed, working in a culture that workers are afraid of making mistakes is stressful, limits the possibilities of discovering better ways of doing things and reinforce the mentality of “just a job” instead of ownership. True employee ownership would come from a sense of empowerment to experiment and fail. That’s why unless your employees are working in the job that errors can cost serious injury or a life, there should be no harm in making them – as long as they learn from the mistakes after.

The global design firm IDEO’s slogan is “Fail often to succeed sooner”. This slogan centred on human has led to innovations from the 1st computer mouse for Apple to the robotic whale in the movie ‘Free Willy’ and hundreds of novel products most of us use every day, including the 1st stand-up toothpaste tube. Aside from gaining a strong sense of ownership, IDEO’s culture has induced high employee engagement, really low turnover and huge success for the company.

7. Give frequent public praise




Every employee makes mistakes. Similarly, every employees does something well, even your worst employee.

That means every worker deserves certain praise. Just find reasons to recognize your average performers. Find ways to recognize your relatively poor performers. In fact, sometimes all it takes for a worker to improve their performance is a little public recognition. Public praise shows you care, and give your employees reason to care.

8. Reward or release




Reward and recognize workers that take ownership of their job by paying them well, giving bonuses (monetary or other recognition), promoting them, or giving them more challenging and exciting projects. Just acknowledge their contribution to the team. For employees that continually fail to meet your performance expectations should be released. When there is no improvement in their performance, even after you try to find good things they have done to recognize them, there is no way but let them go. Non-performers will become your company’s burden and can negatively affect the morale of whole team.

9. Create opportunities

A job is just a job when it can’t lead to greater things for the employees’ career, life, etc.

In fact, every worker wakes up every day with the hope of better future. Show them you care by helping create a path to their future.

Good companies assume their workers will benefit when their company grows. Great companies would understand that developing a better future for the company directly depends on developing a better future for their employees. That way, everyone wins. Is not that the kind of company you really want to develop?

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