Overcoming the Danger of Taking Ownership
Ownership is dangerous when others are ruled out. “It’s mine! Don’t touch my things!” Individual owners do things themselves. That’s good unless it become exclusive, protective, and short-sighted.
The trouble with individual contributors is they create patterns and processes others don’t embrace or duplicate. They hoard expertise and knowledge. Some can’t share the spotlight; others don’t know how. Some refuse to invest in others.
Individual ownership is powerful. But, ownership is a dead-end, unless teams and partnerships are included and developed.
Individual contributors are essential;
team builders exponential.
Alone is ok; “with” someone is better. Leaders create “withs”.
Create ownership continuum:
Continuity, sustainability, knowledge transfer, and longevity are leadership’s responsibility. Take the long view rather than the easy out.
- Train everyone to replace themselves. If they can’t teach others to do what they do, they need to go. Move training from theory to practice with new opportunities.
- Provide job shadowing opportunities at least once a month. “Follow me around for an hour or two.”
- Engage in job rotation. At given intervals, every three years for example, people’s job should change in measurable ways. Mastery becomes lethargy without new challenges.
- Leverage leaving. When someone leaves your organization, don’t simply replace them. Change the position. Reassign responsibilities.
Caveat: It may not be feasible to rotate highly specialized, highly technical people. Do it everywhere possible.
Employee security includes sameness. “Don’t mess with my job.” On the other hand, disruption challenges, freshens, and invigorates.
What are the pros and cons of working toward ownership continuum?
How might you implement ownership continuum in your organization?
Where are these ideas unrealistic?
I have found that even when someone appears to be the absolute, irreplaceable expert, the world will not end when you rotate him or her out to do a developmental job. I have had a few times where I felt like i was cutting off my right arm, and yet… i was surprised at how much both they and the organization grew once this “irreplaceable” person moved to a new assignment. Sometimes there is fear involved on both sides, which the expertise may be masking.
Thank you Karin, It’s always useful when you add your expertise and experience.
This is so true. We have an expert that everyone feels we can’t live without. But I can’t help but wonder how that person might be holding us back and that it might be good if they left and we had to reassess that position.
This issue is amplified in volunteer organizations, in which “authority” is often loosely defined.. Leading to “my way or I go someplace else.” In these organizations even rotating a job for cross-training can be seen as threatening… Quite challenging…
You are so right Ken. Volunteers, rightly so, have a high sense of ownership. I wonder if helping them own the big picture helps. Still a challenge.
..perhaps we are so grateful to have volunteers on board, we stop selling the big picture.. Or we assume they buy in because they show up! Yet the volunteers creativity and zeal are a great engine to move the organization. (I’m sure you recognize this delimma!)
Ownership and volunteer zeal are synonymous in my book. I see some volunteers who are better at creating a team and others who are completely incapable of doing it. We have to use both. I try to keep the team builders in central roles and the individual contributors in less essential roles.
Additionally, when I have a choice between a highly talented individual contributor and an average team builder, I take the team builder every time.
One of the most overlooked duties of leadership for creating a culture of ownership is treating people like genuine partners when it comes to sharing the financials. In my book “The Florence Prescription” I wrote about a nurse who made a living working full-time at a hospital, but knew more about the finances of the school board that was a several hour per month commitment. That is quite typical. Jack Stack (author of “The Great Game of Business” and “Open Book Management”) and his team at Springfield ReManufacturing have clearly shown the competitive – and human – advantage of truly treating employees like partners, but not very many organizations go to those lengths.
What a great addition to this discussion…sharing financials goes hand in hand with building ownership and responsibility. I find this a tough one. But agree with you, it’s essential.
Employees as partners… now there’s an idea 🙂
We model this in our development programs and the result is fascinating – in the first round where experts are assigned to roles Unexpected problems are not handled well in the “expert” situation because unless the problem falls exactly within their role no one even notices the problem – and then the response is reactive rather than proactive. In the third round will allow people to return to their expert postion if they like and most of the time people choose to shift roles again – but whether they do or not communication continues at a higher rate.
The other fascinating change is the decreased stress on the “expert” who felt like the success of the initiative was all on his/her shoulders – by sharing roles others start to pitch in and the expert begins to collaborate and contribute in other areas. It can be bumpy for a short while (developmental dip) but very soon they find a new balance and move forward more effectively that before.
When we stop focusing on the role of the expert but the performance of the group then it is easy to see how critical getting out of ownership thinking is. The world is moving too fast to stay put. Shared ownership fosters creativity, communication, big picture thinking, collaboration, proactive problem solving, increased team capability and decreased stress.
Dan, I am a recent subscriber and want you to know that your words of wisdom each day are greatly appreciated!!!! Your 300 word limit is perfect. There is enough there to challenge us each day. You also have a gift in keeping it fresh each day. Thank you – Bob
Great post. I completely agree with “train everyone to replace themselves.” I would recommend for managers within organizations that have less dynamic staffing (e.g. federal agencies) to dialogue with and observe their existing staff to identify under-leverage skill sets already within their organization as a means for reinvigorating or supporting new directions or needs of the organization.
Coupled with training everyone to replace themselves, is getting past that free floating insecurity…indicate why do it.
It can be via the continuous learning mode/value- to do introspection at asking yourself why do you routinely do the things you do…and what is one thing you can do do differently that will improve those things?
If it does improve, might it free up time and give you more opportunities to learn something else that you really want to learn? Or, if others learn your work, then, the organization (if it walks the talk) will provide you with new learning experiences periodically as you have noted Dan.
Another ‘why’ would be to endorse that key elements of every person’s job are exactly that, key to the success of the organization and cannot be the eminent domain of one person. How often do we hear, ‘s/he’s not here today so we can’t do it.’ ?
Another why would be related to not only not becoming a crispy critter in doing the same old same old, but to respect the work that others are doing, creates empathy and appreciation to be sure. (If top down does this regularly, everyone gets much more engaged.)
Final why, whether or not younger employees can lock into the ‘legacy’ perspective, not sure, but it could be an undercurrent worth weaving in. Our time on this earth is limited, our time with each organization is limited, how do you want to be remembered, what do you want to leave? What is your long view?
I appreciate your idea of rotation and job shadowing. These provide in building good working environment. But it needs more effort to execute these concept at workplace. Leaders need to infuse a sense of belief in employees mind. They should believe that this will benefit to all. Unless this belief is created, it could be difficult to make the idea happen. The philosophy of ownership is based on collective development. But when individual or some liked minded people take ownership for their benefit, it challenges the basic idea of ownership. I believe that collective ownership is easier than individual ownership. It means in the situation where intention is good, individual takes more accountability than group of people where actual or perceived accountability is shared.Thus working towards ownership continuum depends upon the intention of either individual or group. I strongly believe that leaders can implement ownership in the organization by taking decision, creating their own examples and encouraging honesty and efforts. Leaders with high integrity generally able to create ownership continuum. However, these ideas could prove unrealistic and unworkable where leaders are less competent/incompetent and believe in safeguarding their positions. In such cases, leaders promote unethical and unhealthy practices that can protect their position. And, leadership incompetency can lead to better development when leader is willing to learn and accept his incompetency. This provide lessons to others where they can develop ability to learn. So, leaders must create a culture of authenticity, acceptance and encouragement.
Dan – Fantastic article! In a workplace, leaders shirking responsibility tend to attract the most attention. Yet, it’s the leaders who take too on much responsibility that are truly detrimental – especially when withholding and ‘hoarding’ are used as political power plays. Those fiefdom builders tend to burn through staff quickly, have the highest cost structure, and tend to consistently underperform. Team building and collaboration are absolutely essential. Loved your insights and tips!
larger issue with this topic is change management, Leaders need to communicate constantly about why this is necessary.
I so believe is cross-training. But what do you do when the person that you need to train everything is hard to deal with, lazy, won’t take notes, wants to ask you what to do about every step instead? I’ve told them this head on but after trying to do better a bit they fall back into their bad habits? I have gotten to the point where I train them the basics and won’t train them on anything else. I don’t like it but it’s for my own sanity.