Responsible employees are engaged employees, and engagement is key for getting employees to take real ownership of their work.
Most organisations now see the need for this, but are still struggling to move beyond the rather tired strategies of engagement surveys and employee forums.
Those things do matter, of course, but they certainly won’t produce the major shift in employee engagement, attitude, or commitment that most are looking for.
If you, as a manager or leader, are asking questions about employee engagement, what you’re really asking is “how can I improve productivity?” And in our austerity-driven and target-obsessed world, this is certainly a valid question. The answer is rooted in how much people really care about and identify with both their team and the organisation as a whole.
Ownership and engagement
We know, from the huge amount of research that has been undertaken by Engage for Success and many other worthy organisations and academic institutions, that engagement increases productivity and innovation.
People who care deeply about their team, job, goals, and the vision of their leader or organisation, simply commit more and release more of the ‘discretionary effort’ that makes them more creative, more willing to work long and hard in the pursuit of achieving goals.
One very important component of encouraging engagement is that of ownership. People who feel a sense of ownership when it comes to their work are, by definition, engaged.
This can even happen when they feel disconnected from their senior management. I was queuing at the pay station in a hospital car park the other day and heard a conversation between two nurses who were clearly passionate about helping their patients, but (understandably) furious that they are asked to pay nearly £200 a month from their hard-earned wages simply to park to go to work.
The comments they made about their senior leaders and the hospital were somewhat pithy and robust, shall we say. Yet they remain committed and caring, because they believe in the work and are engaged with supporting their colleagues. It was clearly much more than ‘just a job’ to them.
What creates a sense of ownership?
I’ve seen this sense of ownership in many teams over the years, and it occurs where the work or the organisation’s purpose ignites their passionate commitment, when they feel able to make a difference, and when the team (and perhaps their leader) matters more to them than the petty irritations they deal with every day. If you add to that actual ownership, as in a stake in the organisation’s success, then this can be increased still further.
Many years ago when I was CEO of a firm with 50 employees, we chose to share a substantial stake in the firm with our people. They were pleased and so was I. Life went on.
A couple of months’ later, while driving away from our country headquarters on a dark winter night, I noticed one of the admin team’s car headlights do a 180 degree turn and so went back to check she was ok.
When I asked, she said “I just noticed someone had left the light on in the main office”.
When someone takes enough responsibility to turn around and go back to switch off a light, then you know they care. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like a leader than I did that day. And I’ve never forgotten that it’s my job to create that feeling of ownership for every one of my colleagues ever since.
But what made this employee want to take such ownership in the first place? Perhaps it was because, as a minor shareholder, she was concerned about wasting electricity and therefore potential profits. But I think there was much more to it than this. As a company, we took care to give everyone the freedom and autonomy they needed to excel in their roles. We trusted and empowered employees to make important decisions each day, and because of this, they knew their work and behaviours had a huge impact. I suspect that this is what really created that sense of ownership.