All Articles Leadership Getting people to take ownership of their jobs

Getting people to take ownership of their jobs

5 min read


Job ownership is a simple business concept that many managers and employees misconstrue.

Coming up through the ranks, we may have heard some old-school managers tell an employee that he/she needed to take ownership of their job. When the confused employee asks how to do that, the classic copout was, “If you don’t know how to take ownership of your job you shouldn’t be working here.” Fearful of getting fired or demoted, the employee said they knew and quickly hid. Adding to their uncertainty, they’d ask other employees, only get a slew of different answers. (Have you been there?)

Cards on the table: This is about the individuals on your team who have what it takes but are watching from the sidelines.

In my opinion, they haven’t made a commitment because the company culture hasn’t made the same commitment. Companies haven’t stepped up to job ownership by defining it in writing and communicating what it is. They’ve failed to explain the big picture and the rewards it brings.

Most businesses make it a silent expectation. How many of you had a one-on-one meeting with the ownership/management before starting a job where you were motivated to be a star? (Almost zero, from my surveys) Some managers hope that their employees will magically step up and be those shining stars without any input. Hope is not a business strategy!

If we as leaders can’t spell out what we want and clarify the success it brings, how can we expect our employees to buy-in? By the way, if employees aren’t buying in, then they are buying out. The symptoms of buying out show up in a TGIF attitude, sloppy work and inconsistent performance.

Sometimes, job ownership is met with sarcastic comments like, “Oh, I’ll take ownership of the job right now and give myself a huge raise and a company car.” Many employees have an attitude along the lines of, “They just want us to work harder so they can make more money and give us nothing.” (sound familiar?)

Let’s get real

People will never take ownership unless there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Nobody wants to work harder and longer to achieve the same results.

From my experience, employees want to work at a company where their future is bright and their hard work gets noticed. People want to work at a place where their extra efforts amount to something worthwhile and lead to improvement in their lives. In my opinion, if they think you’re company is that train, they’ll hop on board and enthusiastically become part of the solution and not part of the problem. Mediocre performance is part of the problem, and being mediocre is a very poor business strategy.

Start at the beginning

Let’s begin with a working definition.

“Job ownership is an attitude of excellence, achievement and expertise.” I know it is simple, but “simple” cuts through the clutter. Please know, simple doesn’t mean easy.

Attitude is front and center and is the difference maker in every task the employee does.

The “ownership attitude” insures that everything is done to the best of their ability — first time and every time. It’s further expressed by a willingness to learn, to get better and not settle for the get-by. You often see it in special employees where “just do it” doesn’t make the grade but “just do it right” becomes their calling card. Not letting things fall through the cracks, extra effort, volunteering for difficult assignments become their standard operating procedures. Since some people have it and others don’t, let’s go to the next logical step.

Strategy — cultivate that attitude

As the leader, it starts with you and boils down to just two words: “trust” and “value.”

Current and potential team members have to buy in. For that to happen, first and foremost, they have to trust you. Trust is earned every day. You are constantly on stage with your employees. They watch and listen to everything you say and do.

Next, I don’t know anyone who wants to be punkd, played, worked or any other term that translates into being used for a sucker. This is their biggest apprehension — no ROI. If they can’t see how all their efforts will lead to something better (aka, value), they certainly won’t buy whatever you’re selling.

It’s our responsibility as leaders to foster the attitude of job ownership by establishing it in writing and communicating what it is, what we expect, how to do it and detail the benefits. Then, we must effectively communicate it as an expectation to the current team and to potential hires.

Get organized

If they’re told to take ownership and then get reprimanded/criticized by management for making a mistake or doing something they “shouldn’t have been doing” — you’ll lose them forever.

Before you roll it out, have a management meeting and brainstorm what could go wrong, where it might not apply and what you want it to look like when it’s done.

Walter Sasiadek is president/founder of Walter Hot Profits. He’s a personal trainer for business owners and managers. His company offers consulting, training and speaking services. Walter specializes in fast, actionable solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].