The Fuss About Ownership and Rightly So

Some common questions that leaders ask us:

  • I just hired a very senior person with the hope that s/he would make changes. But, this person is just not taking ownership
  • We are growing aggressively and there is a need for people to take ownership and not be told all the time on what needs to be done
  • There was a deliverable at 5:00 PM today. The team comes up at the last moment saying they will not be able to deliver today. They wrap up for the day and say they will get back to the deliverable the next day.
  • Everyone is blaming the other but no one is standing up and taking ownership to solve the issue

Why is ownership so difficult? Because ownership is a CHOICE. It’s a choice few people make and most people do not, for various reasons.

So, why do most people not make ’ownership’ their choice? To answer this, let us understand what ownership means?

Ownership is about taking initiative, about telling someone not to worry and that it will be taken care of and done the right way. When people take ownership, they think of the company as their own and spend its resources (money, time etc.) as if it was theirs. They basically ‘care’.

The next question is why don’t people ‘care’. Often, it is because they don’t feel they are ‘cared for’. Many times, people do not understand what they need to do in their jobs in the first place. Hence, when they feel they don’t know what they are doing in their job or what is expected from them, they find it tough to take on anything more. Add insecurity to this list and you understand why people seldom take ownership.

Leaders should understand that ‘ownership’ is not a default mode. It is a mode that needs to be enabled. Here is a three-step approach on what can be done to drive the ownership spirit:

Step 1: Establish the outcomes that need to be achieved:

When a new person comes on board and the expectation is that they will change the world, it is important to define the ‘world’, its worldly views and what the success of the change would be. The new person not only has to unlearn, navigate through the new system to affect the change but also know what direction to take and the timelines set to make the change. Many a times people blame each other when they don’t know who needs to do what and how their actions would be measured or a success defined.

Step 2: Create and enable the ecosystem:

Provide the right systems – I once had a leader who would say that he wanted his leaders empowered, but would expect them to come to him for a $5 approval. Systems need to enable and not disable. People will take initiative and ownership when they know that they don’t need to overcome a ton of bureaucracy.

Provide the framework – help people understand what behaviours are needed to be demonstrated. Explain what these behaviours mean. This needs to tie into the larger purpose of the organization which people should be clear on.

Listen – If you are not open to receiving inputs and listening, people will back-off.

Walk the talk – Help people succeed in what they need to do without fear and constantly being told what is not going well. They will not have the answers all the time (at the highest level as well). In such times take the initiative and help solve the issue.

Let people be – once you have established the outcomes, created the right eco-systems, let people be. Have a disciplined check-in mechanism to see how progress is being made. Help remove roadblocks, enable people to learn and succeed.

Step 3: Establish ‘Ground Rules’:

This one is important. What are the non-negotiable rules that everyone must abide by. These need to be fundamental things like timeliness (respect for each other’s time, 5 o’clock is 5 o’clock and not a minute past the hour etc.) or responsiveness (keeping people informed, closing the loop, accepting calendar invites and not keeping people guessing).

These three steps should create a better chance for people to take more ‘ownership’. At the end, it is a ‘CHOICE’. The question to ask, are we giving them the platform to make that choice?