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7 Leadership Capabilities for Building an “Ownership Culture”

Suzanne was frustrated, again. It was 6:30 AM Monday morning and she was sending a team email with subject line – “Your Accountabilities.” Another week passed with her team missing deadlines and making mistakes. The maddening part was nobody seemed to be bothered, except her! Suzanne wondered why people didn’t take initiative and ownership for their responsibilities and mission outcomes.

High-performing organizations understand fostering an ownership culture is critical for attracting and retaining top talent and for achieving results. Suzanne grasps this theoretically but lacks a playbook to execute. An ownership culture is when everyone takes full responsibility for their tasks, feels accountable for agreed upon outcomes, and are empowered to make decisions that’ll lead to achieving those outcomes. Simply put, either Suzanne has the wrong people, or her leadership is ineffective.

“If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your customers.” -Richard Branson

7 Leadership Capabilities for Building an Ownership Culture

  1. Hire Slow, Fire Fast. Be like Netflix and implement hiring criteria that identifies candidates who instinctively “pick up the trash.” Your cultural values are exhibited by who you hire, promote, and fire.
  2. Overcommunicate the Why. An ownership culture begins to gain traction when individual purpose aligns with organizational purpose. Effective change leaders don’t rely on dry statistics to influence their people, rather they harness the power of emotion. For example, sharing customer stories where team members took ownership of an issue, solved the problem, and delighted the customer.
  3. Set Expectations and Be Encouraging. Communicate over and over that taking ownership is a core responsibility. If employees have been conditioned by a wait-to- be-told management style, be patient and encouraging.
  4. Share Information Openly. Transparency builds trust and knowledge is empowering. When team members see a clear line of sight from their work to the organization’s priorities, they’re more likely to feel empowered to take the initiative to make smart decisions.
  5. Develop a Participatory Management Culture. An ownership culture is dead-in-the-water with a top-down leadership hierarchy. A participatory management style is optimal for encouraging, and demanding, that employees think and act as owners.
  6. Give Autonomy and Decision-Making Authority to the Front-Line Teams. Leaders must believe that the truth is in the trenches. Team members that have appropriate autonomy to make localized decisions are agile, adaptable, and more innovative, ensuring their organization remain relevant and competitive.
  7. Inspect What You Expect. There will always be individuals and situations that’ll demand your monitoring. However, with an ownership culture these behavior and performance breaches become the exception rather than the norm.

Building an ownership culture is hard work but the rewards are worth it. When managers don’t have to run around in fire drills all day, making all the decisions, an incredible relief is felt. When employees feel that they have a personal stake in creating customer value for the organization, they’ll act like an owner and take the initiative to do the right thing.

A Leadership Dilemma – you can’t make someone accountable, it’s a personal choice. A person needs to want to be accountable. Simply put – either you have the wrong people, or your leadership is ineffective.

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