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Exploring Execution vs. Ownership

  • By Robert Bogue
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Ownership Apprenticeship

Some organizations have adopted a better approach to the problem. They recognize that organizations are structured to squash the innate instinct to take on ownership of the organization's success, and take steps to fight the natural progression of things and, in some cases, can even reverse it.

Despite the organizational tendencies to squash ownership, it is possible to encourage people to take ownership. Here are some simple things that you can do in your organization to start an Ownership Apprenticeship Program:

  • Make everyone feel safe - One of the prerequisites for being able to communicate your true feelings and to take risks is to feel safe. This means that mistakes are not viewed as fatal flaws and that appropriate risks are rewarded, whether they work out or not.
  • Take the time to inform - It's difficult to take ownership of something that you don't understand. If your employees don't understand how the organization is doing, or how your group is doing, how can you expect them to help you "right the ship?"
  • Connect their actions to the results of the organization - Working everyday, it's easy not to see how your contributions impact the bottom line or are making a difference. Owners want to feel they are important and are making a difference. Connecting employees to the organization helps them to understand their importance.
  • Focus on results, not on steps - When giving instructions or reviewing the results of a set of actions, focus on the results, not the steps the person followed. The results are what count in business. Prisoners of execution want and sometimes need step-by-step instructions. Owners will fill in the gaps as long as you have given them sufficient direction to understand the framework of what you are asking for. You are not seeking to quit giving direction, rather you're looking to focus on giving the direction and letting them figure out what roads they are going to take to reach the destination.
  • Learn about them - Learning about a person may sound like a waste of time. You have results to generate and you are going to do that, no matter what it takes. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. You can't just will something into being. You need the support of everyone working with you and to get that, you have to show you truly care about them. Caring about them means caring about things they care about. You can't care about things that you don't know. Take the time to learn what motivates them in order to match assignments with what they will enjoy. In this way, they will automatically become an owner rather than you trying to encourage the behavior.

Parting notes from the prison yard

No organization that I've ever seen has this exactly right. Some organizations have managers that are very good at helping to break people out of their shells; however, most organizations don't have nearly enough of them.

If you're struggling with getting people engaged and taking ownership in the results, you are not alone. Just do your best and, when all else fails, toss the keys to the inmates and ask them what they need to be able to take ownership for the organization's success or failure.

Author's Note: If you've been reading this as a supervisor, manager, leader, etc., I'm talking to you. Whenever you have a role that makes you responsible or partially responsible for others, you need to take steps to protect the only truly renewable resource that an organization has - its people.

About the Author

Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.

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This article was originally published on July 27, 2004

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