Employees high-fiving

Encouraging employees to take ownership of their work benefits both the company and the individual. Company-wide work ownership leads to attaining both company and personal career goals. Achieving a pattern of individual team member ownership can only take place in a positive work atmosphere with open and transparent communication. A positive company culture encourages everyone to make decisions and move forward without fear of judgment and negative consequences. That kind of company atmosphere where people trust each other makes taking ownership feel safe.

The MDC Group includes ownership and transparent communication as parts of its “Group DNA.” The company uses this DNA to guide managers and team leaders in their hiring process, performance reviews, and annual evaluations of the company and individuals. The DNA includes four basic concepts and directives:

  1. Take Direction- Collaborate, Be Carefrontational, But Move Forward in the Same Direction
  2. Bias for Action/Sense of Urgency- Make Decisions and Take Action to Completion
  3. Personable- Mean People Suck; Treat People with Respect; Internal/External; Up/Down
  4. Ownership- Own the Situation and the Outcome; Take Full Responsibility; Good or Bad

Defining Workplace Ownership

To understand what workplace ownership is and why it matters, let’s look at a few definitions from business writers.

According to an article on Indeed.com, “Taking ownership in the workplace refers to finding motivation for your assignments and staying proactive in your daily job responsibilities.”

Another definition in an article by infotrust.com says, “Ownership means I have an obligation to the organization in terms of results, and that I have an obligation to act on the items that impact those results.”

LinkedIn defines ownership as “an employee to possess the freedom in making an appropriate decision and willingness to accept the outcome of his/her action. – being responsible for your work and learning to accept your mistakes.”

So, employee ownership is about motivation and responsibility. Individuals must feel committed and enthusiastic about their work. They should be proud of what they accomplish and accept and try to remedy any failures or missteps.

Evaluating Company Ownership

A company should start by evaluating how well leaders and team members take ownership of work. When everyone owns their work, they show enthusiasm, take some initiative, communicate openly, and like coming to the office or job site. Companies that suspect team members avoid accountability and ownership should look for certain symptoms like a lack of enthusiasm and an uncaring attitude.

For example, when ownership doesn’t exist, team members don’t show concern when goals aren’t achieved or deadlines are not met. Absenteeism and lateness rise and everyone communicates less effectively, especially about any problems. You might also notice people are defensive, blaming others when things go wrong. They might feign ignorance rather than step up to discuss things openly. Companies can increase workplace ownership with five initiatives.

Here are Five Ways a Company Can Encourage Ownership

1. Encourage Open and Transparent Communication

Open or transparent communication means information is freely shared throughout an organization. That means people share information laterally with coworkers, and leadership keeps all team members informed. It also means workers talk openly to management. Everyone knows the company or project goals, what changes might be in the works, and what challenges departments, teams, and the company face. With open communication, all team members feel free to share an opinion, make a suggestion, and admit an error or oversight. Transparent communication in many company cultures, including The MDC Group’s DNA, promotes mutual trust and support so everyone can concentrate on owning their work and accomplishing goals.

2. Help Individuals Create Career Goals

An organization that encourages each member to have and work towards individual career goals gains loyal and enthusiastic employees. Group leaders or human resource managers can meet with each team member annually to create or review career goals. By consistently examining a person’s career goals and evaluating their progress, they think more about what actions will advance their career. With that in mind, they often see the advantages of owning a project or taking on more responsibility. They also may seek more training and education to enable them to do more in their jobs.

At The MDC Group, there’s a huge emphasis on goal setting. The utilize their S M A R T goal setting system to make sure all goals are:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Timely

The Director of Employee Engagement helps every team member review and evaluate these SMART goals twice per year during team member annual and bi-annual reviews. The Director of Employee Engagement then checks in quarterly to get updates and keep people accountable. Together the director and employee ensure they are on task and see if and where they might need help.

3. Delegate Authority

Some individuals feel more comfortable taking on a leadership role than others do. Managers can put people who often shy away from taking ownership in charge of a project or goal. Delegated responsibilities for projects or initiatives can be small at first, but by putting a team member in authority, that person gains confidence. They see the career benefits of leading others and begin to take ownership of all their work.

4. Publicly Recognize Achievement

Team Leaders and managers must make an effort to notice and recognize individual and group achievements. Some leaders instinctively acknowledge people for jobs well done. But others may need some instruction on how and when to do so. For example, recognition can be written in an email, a memo, a newsletter, or on a physical or virtual bulletin board. Team meetings are also great for announcing achievements.

Most companies have annual events for formal recognition, but regular acknowledgment throughout the year helps motivate everyone and builds a tendency toward ownership. Recognition can boost someone’s confidence and encourage them to work enthusiastically and own their efforts towards the company and individual goals.

5. Embrace Helpful Feedback and Problem-Solving

No one likes to be criticized or corrected, but everyone makes mistakes. Instead of criticism, leaders and managers should give helpful feedback meant to solve a problem and teach skills.

For example, under the first element of The MDC Group’s DNA system, Bias for Action, and Sense of Urgency, they describe a concept called “Carefrontation,” which combines confrontation with caring. People interested in moving forward quickly, give feedback without attacking the individual and with an eye to correcting a situation and solving a problem. When carefrontation replaces criticism and blaming, people more readily take ownership of their work. They fear feedback less and look to learn new skills from others.

Ownership is a commitment to an obligation. It’s pride in achievement and acknowledgment of fallibility. The necessary motivation for ownership or commitment to an obligation comes from an individual’s drive supported by various company policies and practices. For example, a company culture must include consistently honest communication and a non-judgmental atmosphere that embraces innovation and problem-solving.

With positive cultural policies in place, people take credit when they’ve accomplished something but admit to mistakes or misjudgments when things don’t work as well. Individuals feel comfortable with ownership with an honest and realistic balance of accomplishment and misstep. The more people own their work, the more motivated they are to work toward their career goals. With ownership, they also connect more solidly to company goals.


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