“The master’s eye makes the cattle thrive.” It’s not the first time we’ve used this aphorism on our blog. The phrase refers to the level of attention that an owner focuses on their business. A sense of ownership is the differentiated mentality of people who want to see their company thrive, ensuring stability, profits and growth. Imagine if every one of your company’s employees and managers had this same mentality?
What is ownership?
When people start businesses, many of them in garages, student dorms, or cafés, they often have several characteristics in common. The partners, who will become the directors, CEOs, CFOs, and other key members of the company, are (or think they are) visionaries with ideals. For them, more than making money, having a business involves fulfilling a dream. You must know people like that, people who love their business to the extent that they talk about it as if it were their child or their true love.
As time passes, the company begins to grow, and new professionals are brought onto the team. With successive rounds of new hires, the passion that defined the initial group diminishes, and the relationship between people switches from “partner/partner” to “employer/employee.” The archetypical figure in this relationship is the apathetic employee who hates their boss and sees their job solely as a means of paying the bills. Although this extreme is not the rule, its opposite is even rarer.
Not everyone can own a company. But an attitude of ownership is something that can be achieved – and desired – by every professional in an organization that seeks lasting success. So, if you are an entrepreneur or a manager, you need to understand the difference between accountability and ownership.
Accountability x Ownership
The difference between accountability and ownership is the difference between feeling responsible for your task at the company and a generalized sense of ownership regarding the company’s success as a whole. Your goal as a manager, entrepreneur or any other type of leader should be to get your employees from a position of responsibility to a position of ownership.
Responsibility is something that creates pressure and anxiety on employees. They are given tasks within a framework of rules and hierarchies. Managers unilaterally delegate these tasks to their subordinates as something they must complete with an allotted time frame. Employees with responsibilities work to avoid punishment rather than to achieve positive outcomes. This view of their role at the company can lead them to hide unfavorable data and ignore crises.
Ownership is the mentality that stimulates and causes enthusiasm among the members of a team. It’s about goals, ideas and a feeling of camaraderie. Ownership cannot be delegated; it is a feeling that is held or generated by professionals who see the success of the company as an overarching goal of the whole team. Employees who have this sense of ownership strive for the good of the organization as a whole, working as a part of a team, openly and synergistically, thinking about how to improve every metric – even those for which they have no direct responsibility.
Some professionals naturally think in this manner; however, the company will only be able to take full advantage of this desirable attribute if it follows a policy of inclusion, not a rigid hierarchy. Let’s talk about how you can implement this kind of policy in your organization.
Instilling an attitude of ownership in your employees
When your company is still in its infancy and has just one or two employees, you can have employees who only feel that limited responsibility. After all, it’s entirely possible to micromanage everything when you’re working on a small scale, keeping the feeling of ownership entirely to yourself. But if you’re like most of the managers and entrepreneurs in the world, your goal will be to see your business grow. Once your company reaches a certain critical mass, getting directly involved in every process and decision becomes impractical.
If you nurture a culture of ownership from the start, you will see your efforts create a cascade effect on your employees. You will be able to invest your time in essential management tasks while other team members will perform their duties satisfactorily. And, when appropriate, your employees will look to you and other managers for help because they will be motivated by their quest for success.
It is easier to hire professionals with this attitude of ownership than it is to instill it in them. So, the first step in building a team that feels ownership is selecting the right people. Starting with the very first employees, who will go on to become managers and leaders of the company, always look for people with that sense of ownership. Look for those people who want to understand the companies’ processes and view the organization in the same way they see their favorite football team or their preferred brand of some product.
Every professional belonging to the initial team who has an attitude of ownership will help spread that culture throughout the company, instilling the feeling in other employees. Look for professionals who prefer to exchange rules and supervision for ideas and autonomy, who work with a sense of satisfaction and a feeling that the organization cares for them and depends on them.
…and communicating even better
If your team has already been set up and you want to implement a culture of ownership, communication is the key. Contributors with an attitude of ownership should be influenced, not commanded. If you are trying to get the best result from a professional who is doing a job that you have not already mastered, explain to them what you need and say “What do you need to achieve this result? How can I help you? ”
If you fully understand the task that is being assigned to another professional, talk to them as an equal, explaining how you would do it, what the task means to you, and what your concerns are. Now let them create their own routine according to their style, but with the same goal. Did you realize that in both cases, defining the goal is more important than the way in which it was reached?
Encourage side projects and creativity
Another way to foster an attitude of ownership in a company is intrapreneurship. This tongue-twister of a word describes the behavior of employees who are continually coming up with new ideas and creating new projects. They are entrepreneurs working within the organization.
This behavior can be individual, coming naturally to each employee, or it can be a part of the company’s culture, as is the case with 3M and Google. These two firms encourage every professional to invest a certain part of their time in parallel projects.
Don’t forget, the best leaders set goals and let competent professionals choose the best way to achieve them. Results and ideas should be collective, bringing together individual skills and competencies. Challenges like this motivate employees. Feeding a culture of ownership is not only the best way to make your business grow, but it also creates a much more enjoyable and light-hearted work environment.
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The characteristics of professionals who have a feeling of ownership
- Display an interest in the history of the company;
- Demonstrate an interest in areas of the organization other than their own;
- Show a desire to study, learn techniques and perform tasks that are not within their job description;
- Feels curiosity about goals and metrics, attempting to understand and improve them;
- Can accept criticism and use it to improve processes and results;
- Capable of organizing themselves to achieve the results they are responsible for and to try to understand the processes of other areas;
- Suggests new ideas without expecting their immediate implementation;
- Does not hesitate to help when noticing some problem outside their specific area of responsibility;
- Open to new ideas;
- Does not lose motivation when faced with setbacks or mistakes;
- And, without a doubt, self-motivated.
You and the other owners
When you manage to bring together a team that feels a sense of ownership, you’ve already significantly increased your chances of achieving your company’s goals. These professionals will be more productive, motivated and interested, doing everything they can to ensure the company’s success. As we have seen, ease of communication and a lean structure are essential factors for an organization where everyone strives for collective success.