This is how you drive growth through taking ownership in the workplace

Penny ZenkerAccountability, Championship Psychology, LEADERSHIP

taking ownership in the workplace

Why do you need to build ownership in the workplace? We often tell our teammates or employees, “you need to take ownership; you need to be accountable for your positions.” But do we create the enabling environment that drives them to do just that? 

Naturally, we ask them to take ownership because we want them to give their best to achieve the desired results. However, accountability and ownership are entirely different things.

Here we talk about what taking ownership in the workplace means, the core differences between accountability and ownership, and the actual steps to building an ownership culture.

What does ownership in the workplace mean?

Ownership means taking responsibility for your actions and the outcomes of those actions. It means you are responsible for your ideas, tasks, objectives, choices, decisions and the energy and attitude you bring.

Therefore, building ownership in the workplace means crafting a culture that allows our employees and team members the freedom to make appropriate decisions and the willingness to accept the results of their actions. 

So when they take ownership of their work, role, or job position, they assume the responsibility of leadership and start acting like a leader without waiting for instructions on what and how to do their work.

When our team members have a sense of ownership in what they do, they become driven to sense the value in their work. This, in turn, drives them to approach every project with the same care and attention as though it were a passion project.

Thus they take pride in their work and see their projects as a reflection of their abilities. 

How does accountability differ from ownership in the workplace? 

A sense of ownership will drive accountability, but they are not the same.

Jeff Henshaw, Group Program Manager at XBOX,  states that “taking ownership” implies personal investment. It means taking a percentage of your time and energy towards applying personal and direct attention to the project in front of you.  

It is different from “being accountable.” Accountability often implies complying to set instructions and performance assessments. Accountability is about the desire to provide evidence of obedience to superiors. 

In a nutshell, ownership and accountability might both be about achieving positive results. Still, their difference lies in what drives you to achieve those results: Accountability comes from the effort others have put in through instructions and policies. In contrast, ownership comes from your personal responsibility to be better at what you do.

Why is taking ownership important in the workplace?

The principal difference between accountability and ownership: self-direction clearly shows the vitality of a sense of ownership in the workspace. When we create an environment where our team members are no longer about how much they obey or comply with the company’s directives but about following through, they will seize the opportunity to take on the initiative.

That sense of ownership will become evident in every single seat, no matter the role, designation, or experience towards the growth of the entire organization. 

What happens when there is a lack of ownership culture?

For us to further understand the importance of ownership, let’s look at scenarios where we are focused on being accountable instead of demonstrating ownership. When our employees have no sense of ownership in a given task, they wouldn’t care if the entire project was flawed; they would only focus on putting in the expected time or going just a little over the top. They would lack the enthusiasm or motivation to think outside the box and make contributions that may turn the project around for good. 

Also, they will become defensive and start blaming one another when things go wrong because there’s no room for owning one success as well as failures. 

Overtime, the tiny incremental negative energy compounds across the board leading to:

  •  lower engagement and productivity
  • mistrust within teams
  • lack of communication and collaboration, 
  • Unhealthy relationships between superiors and team members
  • Low morale

 

 

Taking ownership fosters empowerment 

An RSA Animate adapted from Daniel Pink’s talk at the RSA shed light on what motivates people in the workplace and at home. According to Daniel Pink, monetary rewards don’t move people towards higher performance. He further stated that those monetary rewards might work for smaller, straightforward tasks, but money is not the motivator when tasks that conceptual and creative ability. 

Motivation comes from within when they have a sense of ownership. Thus, they will be driven to want to be better. They will set higher challenges for themselves, evaluate their work, and actively grow their problem-solving skills. All these will lead to better performance and personal satisfaction. 

A sense of ownership in the workplace can save time and lead to higher quality results because our team becomes driven to go above and beyond, making the best of every situation for the organization’s growth. 

Simply put, they start investing at a personal level with intense purpose, energy, and enthusiasm.

Furthermore, building that ownership culture would enable faster decision-making because our team would become more vested and proactive about every action. They won’t have to take every single decision, which is an ineffective leadership style.

A sense of ownership may also be the missing link to push our team members to think outside the box and unleash their creative and innovative abilities. 

Examples of taking ownership in the workplace

We must realize that ownership comes from within. The performance assessment sheets do not measure it. So, how does a true ownership culture drive your people? Here are likely scenarios to expect:

  • Readiness of both leaders and team members to accept one’s mistakes without excuses.
  • Drive to seek new assignments and challenges
  • The motivation to think of new ways to improve something, especially when set company directives are not yielding results. And also the willingness to face the consequences of these new actions without fear of being judged.
  • The readiness to seek ways to resolve issues
  • The drive to overdeliver on expectations without complaints about extra work or heavy load
  • Drive to  generate new ideas and seek new solutions to old problems
  • The desire to put one’s food forward with a focus on learning and to improve how things are done.
  • Never afraid to talk about one’s failures in public
  • The readiness to stretch capabilities and experiment set the bar higher than expected.
  • The readiness to seek and give constructive feedback to both peers and bosses.

 

Give your team the freedom, autonomy, and the opportunity to take ownership, and they will be driven to go above and beyond for the best results no matter the scenario. Click To Tweet

10 Crucial steps to creating a culture of ownership in any team

Define your values and associated behaviors

What are your company’s values? You need to inform employees of these values and work them into the day-to-day work, from hiring to firing, workflow, and attendance. Every aspect of the company’s policies must be engineered to allow employees a certain amount of independence and decision-making. This solid foundation can make employees see themselves as valued assets because they see the company’s values in action around them. Ultimately, it drives your team to become independently motivated representatives of your company. 

Clarify the purpose 

We must realize that our team members won’t do better if we merely set rules and expect them to follow them without understanding why. We must help them understand the “why” behind every task. This, in turn, inspires, motivates, and pushes them toward a problem-solving mindset. 

Embrace hybrid work 

Emerging studies show that allowing people to decide where and when they work, especially by offering them opportunities to work from home, drives them to be confident, driven, satisfied, and innovative. 

Working from home especially offers opportunities for self-learning, self-direction, and self-monitoring. This may, in turn, help your team make better decisions, adapt, and adjust accordingly to overdeliver on every demanding project.

Ask more questions 

To build ownership in the workplace, we must provide opportunities for our employees to share their ideas and contributions. The right way to do this is by asking more questions. When we ask questions, we push our team into positions to think and weigh the impacts of certain initiatives and, by doing so, contribute to them. Asking questions drives them to take ownership and commit to the present.

It is a much better space to create than simply taking on the leading role by making all decisions without asking for feedback. Not sure where to begin asking questions? Meetings are a great space for asking questions. Still, you want to ensure that these questions are clear and specific to avoid confusion and hesitation. 

Set measurable goals 

Create clear and attainable goals that give your teammates a sense of direction. Naturally, you don’t want to create confusion by offering unbridled and uncontrolled freedom. A uniform vision of your company’s goals, combined with a clear understanding of their respective goal, will ensure they stay on track.

When they have a clear picture of what the end narrative may look like, you are driving them to think in terms of innovating and problem-solving in a matter that contributes to those results. 

Avoid micro-managing to foster taking ownership in the workplace

We must realize that leadership is not about controlling people but empowering them. When we want people to have a sense of ownership, we need to let go of the natural desire to control them by stopping the following habits:

  • Avoid taking on the most challenging tasks by yourselves
  • Avoid checking over their work, especially focusing on the tiny inconsequential details.
  • Avoid asking for feedback on every step, including minor irrelevant details
  • Avoid making all the decisions about how and what happens in a given project.
  • Avoid interrupting their every move to tell them how they should do certain things; they learn to follow directions instead of problem-solving.

Instead, it would be best if you did this:

  • Focus on delegating work to others
  • Give employees tasks that would motivate them and cultivate their leadership skills
  • Hone your art of prioritization to define your focus on the actual tasks that you should be handling.

Provide constructive feedback 

While allowing employees the opportunities to problem solve, never hesitate to offer suggestions for the future. Zero feedback will make them feel disconnected and discouraged. Too much feedback, especially feedback on irrelevant details, might cause them to develop fear and become disconnected. In the end, it is all about balance.

Offer room for mistakes

Perfection is a myth. Help your team realize that “perfection” isn’t expected, find “good enough”. This mindset helps drive trust across boards leading to higher vulnerability. In turn, the opportunities to be vulnerable will allow your team the room to experiment and innovate without fear of failure.

Focus on positive reinforcement 

Building the ownership culture in the workplace also demands recognizing success. Success also doesn’t stop at clear-cut performance results. For instance, you can offer positive feedback on how your team interacts and helps one another. 

Encourage listening and opposing opinions.

Encourage your team to think differently and speak up whenever they have opposing opinions. Provide opportunities to listen to every idea, thought, and concern. Such events give your employees a sense of accomplishment and will also drive change within your organization.

 

Final thoughts – make ownership a core part of your culture and core value of your team

Great leaders focus on “serving” by motivating, inspiring, and guiding their teams to take ownership and become more accountable. That said, we must not forget that true ownership requires experience of failures and successes and gaining an intimate understanding of when to take deviations.

This ultimately means that you may need to experiment to determine the best ways to enable ownership and autonomy in your unique environment.