Having Ownership in Your Work is the Path

You’ve seen the headlines. Employee engagement is at an all-time low. Only 15 percent of employees globally are engaged in their work according to the State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report. That means that 85 percent of us are going to work every day to collect a paycheck and take the easy way out. The vast majority do the bare minimum, fly below the radar, and try not to get fired. 

This apathy is fundamentally changing the workplace. (And not for the better). If engagement is the goal, ownership is the path. But how can you encourage employees to take ownership without diluting your company and why is this so important? 

Why Ownership Must Come First 

Sure, you can do your best to motivate, incentivize or punish disengagement, but no method has proven to have the same effective results as ownership. When employees feel a sense of ownership, they’re more likely to do their best. Once they have “skin in the game” they are guided by personal values and motivation rather than by rules and procedures. 

Ownership gives employees a sense of autonomy and allows them to have a bigger picture. Now they can focus on what the company needs overall rather than just what’s required of them. Goodbye hand-holding and hello genuine engagement. 

How to Encourage Ownership

A culture of ownership means giving everyone a seat at the same table and working as a team for the best interest of the company. This requires that employees see a future for themselves with your organization enough that they are willing to invest themselves fully. As a business owner, there are several things you can do to encourage employees to come all in and take ownership rather than play from the sidelines and quit ahead of time. 

1. Give Employees Autonomy 

This is critical. If employees are going to feel a sense of ownership, they must have control. Read that statement again.  

According to a study from the University of Birmingham Business School that drew on data from 20,000 employees, increased autonomy leads to increased levels of job satisfaction. Anywhere you see an opportunity to give over control, and trust your people – take it. Allow them to control where and how they do their work. Give them budget authorizations or permissions to make changes without consulting a manager for every decision.

When possible, allow the employees who are closest to the situation to make the decisions. Give your team members the training, coaching, advice, and mentorship to make good decisions, and then let them drive. They may not make the same decisions you would have made, but they’ll gain confidence as you both learn to trust one another. 

2. Publicly Acknowledge Achievements

This helps to boost confidence in the workplace and encourages others to work harder. Look for opportunities to acknowledge wins both big and small. Use a memo, a group email, or a public announcement in the next meeting to spotlight those doing well. 

3. Consider Profit-Sharing 

Employees know they will be rewarded when they participate in profit-sharing. This provides an additional vested interest in their work because they know they will be rewarded. Historically, profit-sharing improves customer loyalty, engagement, and productivity. Cash, check, or stock option bonuses are easier to manage than deferred profit-sharing and are taxed as part of normal employee compensation. 

4. Know Your People. 

It’s hard to trust people you don’t know very well. Make it a point to truly get to know the people on your team. Understand what makes them come to work every day, what do they struggle with, and what are their personal goals? Perhaps you have an employee who struggles with anxiety. Ask them about it, let them express themselves freely, and understand how that affects them. Maybe you have a single mother on the team, how might her needs be different? The better you know your team and understand their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them and what their ambitions are – the better you can delegate tasks intentionally and trust them along the way. 

5. You Choose Why – They Choose How.

When you assign a task, make absolutely certain the individual understands why that task needs to be completed, AND why you’ve selected them to do it. Give each job context in the bigger picture so you both understand the goal. Once you’ve assigned the task and explained why, let the employees decide how to get it done. Let them chart their course and build ownership in the process. They might do it differently (and sometimes better) than you had thought. If no, don’t jump in to solve or scold, but ask questions and enable them to see better options.

6. Trust Them Before You Have To.

Sharing ownership will always require trust, so start to trust them with little things to give them confidence, and build a relationship that you can build on in the future. 

7. Encourage Them to Solve Their Own Problems.

Listen to their problem but don’t solve it. Take the time to guide them and ask probing questions that will lead them to determine the right answer. Don’t abandon them, but prove that you trust their judgment and have faith in their ability to solve their own problems.

8. Hold Them Accountable. 

Trust and autonomy are a two-way streets. Employees must also be held accountable for their work, for meeting goals, and getting results. Demand their best effort and reward it accordingly. When necessary, correct with a desire to help your people develop in nurturing and supportive environments. 

Taking ownership is the opposite of passing the buck or making excuses. It’s owning both the task and the result. It’s the ultimate in responsibility. But ownership culture isn’t cultivated overnight. When employees have a stake in the company, you may be surprised at the performance improvements. Take a few of the ideas here to implement and see how they may improve engagement in your team.