You Want People to Take Ownership – But How
“Anything that affects my team is mine.” Brandon Ross*
“If the traffic light in front of my building isn’t working, I’m having someone look into it.”
You want people on your team who take ownership like Brandon, but how?
5 Key factors in giving ownership:
#1. Begin with curiosity.
Barking orders creates compliance. Asking questions invites participation.
#2. Notice passive patterns.
Ownership is active.
Negative situations that persist point to passive patterns. How many times have you had the same conversation? Maybe it’s time to change your approach.
Listen for passive language.
Ask people what they want and listen carefully. People often describe what they don’t want when you ask them what they want.
When people focus on things they don’t want, passive patterns prevail.
Owners know what they want.
#3. Delegate responsibility.
Delegating tasks creates workers. Offering authority invites ownership.
“Mop this floor,” is delegating a task. You begin to shift toward ownership when you ask, “Are you the person to keep this floor shiny?”
#4. Ownership requires competence.
Competent people feel confident to own things, but incompetence shuns responsibility. Expecting ownership from incompetent people is catastrophic.
Incompetence misjudges responsibility. When incompetent people take on jobs, they underestimate what it takes to get things done. Failure and frustration are inevitable.
#5. Ownership elevates the necessity of help.
Ownership isn’t doing everything yourself.
Don’t wait for help to arrive. Go get it.
An owner seeks help before deadlines are missed. If you own it, you can’t let it fail. If you’re in over your head – and often you are – seek help.
“All we have to do to create the future is to change the nature of our conversations, to go from blame to ownership, and from bargaining to commitment, and from problem solving to possibility.” Peter Block
What factors for giving ownership seem most important to you?
What factors for giving ownership might you add to the above list?
*This post includes ideas from a recent coaching conversation with Brandon Ross.
One important factor that comes to my mind is recognition. People are reluctant to take ownership if they don’t feel rewarded enough, if there is nothing in it for them.
Thanks BCR. Wonderful point. We should be careful that ownership doesn’t end with punishment. If all we notice is what’s wrong, the inevitable result is people feel punished for trying.
Most of the time, “I want you to take ownership” means “I will blame you and throw you under the bus when it goes wrong”;
Nobody hears any difference between “Mop this floor,” and “Are you the person to keep this floor shiny?”
Thanks again for adding your thoughts Mitch. I’m always glad when you stop in.
I like your comment Mitchk999. I had to think about it for a sec.
But you are right – Leaders who want their team to take ownership need to be clear about what success looks like (“The floor is shiny by 9AM everyday.”) and what they think the process and milestones might be. In essence, the leader must first get closer to the work and more involved early on, then let that person run it. As reinforcement, then check in with them find out wins and opportunities and boulders that you might need to help move (“I’m out of soap and I don’t know how to get more.”) Thinking about the leadership model that offers more direction or more coaching based on how mature the TM is.
I feel like this needs a 6th point that says to the person instilling the feeling of ownership: “Never underestimate the power of saying ‘thank you’.” Dan, this post is a timely one, as I’m dealing with various teams and trying to build buy-in and ownership. Your blog makes me better. Thank you.
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Can you describe passive patterns more? Examples of such?
I wonder about collaborating on measurements as a way to promote ownership. Something like “how do you think people will know you did a great job mopping the floor?” “Well, I guess it would look shiny.” That becomes a (somewhat) objective measure to talk about performance. “I noticed the floors were/were not shiny.” And it helps drive ownership. “I’m going to mop this floor until it is shiny.
and if you as a leader can’t identify a somewhat objective measure, then it might make you question your expectations. “I want the floor to be mopped daily but as soon as the kids come in, it gets dirty again. I can’t expect the floor to be shiny. What do I expect?”
I’m putting this on my wall.
Dan, I’m mostly a non-manager, but your column helps me show leadership in how I do my work and relate to others. I’m especially paying attention to the points about passive patterns & language and elevating the need for help. “Owners know what they want” says a lot. Thank you.
I’m finally drilling through these emails, and love them all! Ownership might also be about allowing the person to determine what that process and success will look like — some people do better giving them their head and thanking them when they are done. Not everyone works the process the same, but the help is still successful. Unless there is no help at all, no one offering help, and then the question becomes “how do we recruit helpers”?