The term ownership comes from a concept called psychological ownership, which means we can feel like we “own” something even if it’s not a physical object. At work, we take ownership when we assume responsibility over a target or result. It’s the opposite of passing the buck or making excuses.
Someone with a strong sense of ownership would say, “I need to do this task, I can do it, and I, therefore, own the responsibility for achieving success.”
Unfortunately, according to the American Management Association, on average, a quarter of employees avoid this responsibility. In other words, they’re not taking ownership of their work.
How do we change that? How do you help your team internalize the need to do a task, and, in turn, encourage them to truly do their best?
Here are five strategies to help your employees take ownership of their work:
1 Help your team feel like they belong
When employees feel like they fit in, they’re more likely to personally identify with their work. Ciara Trinidad, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Blend put it best in an interview with First Round Review:
“When you build a culture where people can be their authentic selves, they’re going to bring their best work, their best ideas and their best people to your company.”
One of Ciara’s suggestions is to try to understand what diversity means to your team – and then do something about it. A simple example: If you have a single mother on your team, how are her needs different? What can you do to make her work and her life fit together better?
Everyone has unique circumstances. Taking the time to understand each person’s needs not only helps with productivity, but over time also builds the sense that this is the right team for them.Taking the time to understand each person's needs not only helps with productivity, but over time also builds the sense that this is the right team for them. Click To Tweet
2 Make your team feel like owners
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, companies with employee ownership “tend on average to match or exceed the performance of other similar firms.”
Even if you, as a manager, have zero control over your company’s ownership program, there’s still something important you can do for your team: make sure they understand it.
Many employees that have stock awards, stock options or stock purchase plans don’t understand the program or the value. As a manager, it’s definitely worth your time to make sure each person on your team understands the value of the program on a regular basis. Consider adding it to your one-on-one meeting agendas at least once a year to keep your team in the know.
3 Align work, goals and purpose
17th-century philosopher John Locke first presented the idea that people feel ownership over their labor and the things that they produce or create. If someone spends significant time on a product, team or job, then a sense of ownership is likely to develop.
It’s essential for employees to understand how their goals connect to the larger objectives of the organization. Millennial employees in particular derive purpose and feel more engaged when they understand how their work directly contributes to the organization’s success. Otherwise, they’ll have no motivation to stick around at all – let alone to take ownership.
A strong sense of ownership and engagement is more likely to occur when the work being done is aligned with objectives. It needs to be crystal clear how these objectives impact the company’s success. This has to do with the goals and objectives you set, but also to job title and job description.
Unfortunately, we know from this IBM study that this isn’t clear for a lot of people (check out the findings below). So don’t make assumptions about your team’s level of understanding, and take the time needed to give them the information they need.
4 Don’t micromanage
Micromanaging erodes a sense of ownership. Instead of developing a sense of independence and feeling like they “own” figuring out how to achieve what’s needed, employees learn to rely on you as a manager. Worse, it undermines their confidence that they can do the task, or at the very least that they can do it to their manager’s liking.
Holding employees accountable is a powerful way to build a sense of ownership, so set clear expectations about the results you want. Provide them with any help or guidance they ask for, but don’t be afraid to let them fail. Resist the urge to go in and fix things yourself – or tell your employees how they should work.
It’s hard to take ownership of someone else’s recipe/playbook. If they own the result, they need to own creating the playbook, and they also need to own asking for help if they feel stuck. Make that clear.
5 Get your team’s input on the things that impact their work
If you want someone to own something, you need to empower them to have that responsibility. That means giving them a say on the strategy, projects and processes that impact their work. You can’t tell someone they own result x and then make a decision without them that affects their ability to hit result x.
Giving your team a voice also helps build a sense of ownership. Having the ability to influence strategy, project or job design helps employees feel more connected to their own work and the results that they’re accountable for. (If you’re looking for a way to collect employee feedback, our Discussions idea management tool can help!)
Whether someone is an intern or a CxO, having a sense of ownership results in making decisions with more thought, responsibility and care. Employees are more driven, more motivated and take more initiative. They approach work with innovation and creativity, and they’re constantly improving and developing – not just going through the motions.
That’s worth a little hard work, right?
Talk to your team with SoapBox