We all want our teams to take ownership. Not only of daily tasks, but on the impact they can make for their company and its customers. This can be a challenge.
A change requires regular and effective communication, meaningful action, thoughtful leadership, and positive reinforcement. People embrace new ways of working and are willing to take measured risks when there is trust and encouragement to do so.
So why doesn’t this happen? Based on years of real-world change management implementation experience, 100’s of client project engagements, research and customer surveys we’ve found that the reasons usually fall into one or more of the following 6 categories...
1. Micro Management
Junior or inexperienced employees may require a hands-on and somewhat prescriptive approach for them to achieve a successful outcome - and they’ll appreciate the support if it’s genuinely required. However for more experienced employees once they’ve been explained the “What”, or the outcome the business wants to achieve, they should be challenged to come up with the “How-to” themselves. Employees need space to make decisions, learn and grow. Sometimes this requires a shift from managing to mentoring.
A reasonable amount of freedom allows mistakes - this not only aids development but also provides team members with the confidence to take more initiative.
How specific and prescriptive are your instructions when directing others to complete a project or task? Can the team member be expected to plan and complete the task independently? Have you clarified, in advance, how you will view and sign-off on the result of the work produced?
2. Fear of Failure
Many employees avoid taking responsibility because they are worried about the consequences of getting it wrong. This fear may or may not be justified, however people will be "once bitten, twice shy" if the organisation’s culture does not encourage learning from failures.
Praise the effort of people willing to try a new approach. If something does go wrong examine the problem and take steps to fix it for next time. Consider investing in staff development. It is critical to foster a no-blame culture
What was management’s response last time something went wrong? Are you creating a work environment that rewards or punishes learning?
3. Don’t Ask, Don’t Get
In many cases team members don’t take the initiative to fix problems, change or improve the business because they don’t think that it’s their role. In other cases they don’t feel they have the authority within the organisation to take ownership. In both scenarios it can be as simple as stating “I believe you have the capability to grow beyond your existing role.”. Ask your team,
“What change would you like to implement?”
“What problem would you like to take ownership to fix?”
4. Vague Guidelines or Goals
Clear aims for each person, team, and department will foster ownership and action . A team without goal posts can be busy but not achieve purposeful business outcomes. Good leaders regularly orient staff to what really matters and ensure they understand what daily behaviours are required to achieve those goals.
What does a good week, a good month, or a good year look like for the organisation? Does everybody know what that looks like? How can you tell if they know?
5. Unrealistic Expectations
Finding the right balance between work that stretches the team’s current capability, but isn’t completely beyond their current skills and experience, is an important factor in gaining buy in and ownership. This may require additional training and coaching to uplift skills. What some team members find easy can be quite difficult or even daunting for others so a measured approach is needed. Time is also a factor as the confidence and capability to take more ownership can realistically take months and in some cases years to develop.
6. Habits are Hard to Change
We all sit in our comfort zones. Some like to lead, others like to follow. Build new routines that reinforce a change in behaviour. Whether it is quitting smoking, exercising frequently or getting staff to take more ownership - it will take time for these new routines to become habits. Leadership plays an enormous role in helping team members develop these. Effective leaders display genuine interest in the result of their team’s work and the progress they are making. They also check in regularly and ask useful questions, encouraging them through words and actions to keep progressing.
Employees can and will take ownership if managed, supported and mentored in the right way. Finding the balance can be challenging, however when the whole team is engaged the business will flourish.