5 Ways to Help Employees Take Ownership of Their Work

When it comes to taking ownership in the workplace, too many people are willing to pass the buck. Let's fix this. Here are 5 ways to help employees take ownership over their work. Click To Tweet

What does it mean if an employee isn’t taking ownership?

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 responsibility. 

“I need to do this task.”

People can do a task because they’re told to do it, but it doesn’t mean they’ll do it to the best of their ability. However, if they internalize the need to do it, they’re more likely to try their best. These strategies help employees become more intrinsically motivated about their work. ↓

1 Help your team feel like owners

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “…firms with employee ownership tend on average to match or exceed the performance of other similar firms.”

Ultimately, most managers have zero control over ownership programs, so it’s not much of a lever. But we decided it’s worth including because there is one thing all managers should do. 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.  You might even go as far as making sure you add it to your one-on-one agendas at least once a year.

2 Help your team feel like they belong

When employees feel like they fit in, they’re more likely to personally identify with their work. “This is my team, my organization.”

“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.”

That quote is from Ciara Trinidad, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Blend. In the interview, Ciara talks a lot about big picture diversity, but there are still some key things you can do as a manager for your team.  A key take-away 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 and taking the time in one-on-one conversations 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. “Their team.”  

3 Align work, goals and purpose

17th-century philosopher John Locke first presented the idea that people feel that they own 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.

Work → Objectives → Company

A strong sense of ownership and engagement is more likely to occur when the work being done is aligned with objectives and it’s clear how these impact the company’s success and the company’s success is also something an employee is personally invested in. This has to do with the goals and objectives you set, but also to job title and job description.

Unfortunately, we know from a study that IBM completed that this isn’t clear for a lot of people. ↓  So make sure you take the time to connect these things for the people on your team and don’t make assumptions about their level of understanding. 

Too many employees don't understand what's expected of them

“I can do this task”

4 Don’t micromanage

Holding employees accountable is a powerful way to build a sense 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.  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. 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 own asking for help if they feel stuck. Make that clear.

SoapBox one-on-one app Slack integrationThe one-on-one and team-meeting features within SoapBox are designed to help you focus on having regular conversations about some of the above topics. Ultimately, the goal is having a more motivated, high-performing team. One-on-ones and team-meetings are free within the app, so go ahead and give it a try.

“Therefore, I own the responsibility for achieving success”

5 Get your team’s input on 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 strategy, projects, or processes that impacts 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.

Employees who feel ownership will in turn want a bigger role in decisions affecting their work.

Giving your team a voice also helps build a sense of ownership.  Having the ability to influence strategy, a project, or job design helps employees feel more connected to their own work and the results that they’re accountable for. 

SoapBox Discussions Web AppThis is the biggest reason we added the Discussions feature set to the SoapBox app. Discussions is an organized place to gather employee input and make decisions as a team.

The payoff when employees take ownership

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.





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