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When a founder invests their everything into a business, it translates into a very specific type of ownership: No one will likely ever care about their company as much as they will.
That’s not to say founders are the only ones who can feel a strong sense of ownership in a company. In fact, building a culture of ownership among employees can drive results. When employees feel they have a personal stake in an organization and its future, they’re more invested in the company’s performance and empowered to do their best.
Successful ownership culture is one where employees treat every decision as if they were the company’s owner. Creating this type of culture isn’t easy, but there are ways to help foster a sense of ownership among employees.
1. Continuously reinforce the company’s bigger purpose and where employees fit into it
What’s the company’s purpose? What are the company’s goals? Every employee should be able to answer these questions of their organization. Only then can they fully understand where they fit into the bigger picture and how they can contribute to the higher goal.
It’s up to the leaders to communicate this bigger purpose across the entire organization. With continuous reinforcement, employees will begin to align their purpose with the company’s purpose and build a mindset of “what I’m working on is contributing to the company’s bigger goal.” This instills a sense of ownership in employees by giving meaning to everything that they’re working on. Every task becomes a stepping stone in support of the company’s larger goal, instead of a simple checklist item.
2. Encourage employees to manage up
One of the hardest parts about creating a culture of ownership is that ownership can’t be given — employees must be willing to step up to the plate and take it. And one way they can do that is by managing up.
Open communication between managers and their direct reports is one way to encourage employees to manage up. One-on-one meetings, whether they’re weekly or monthly, offer a place for employees to reiterate their current priorities and discuss how these support their managers’ priorities and goals. Rather than using this time to go through a laundry list of tasks that an employee is working on, these meetings should serve as an opportunity for an employee to take ownership of their work. They should walk out of these meetings knowing they’re making a significant impact in the organization, and thinking about how they can further that.
Managing up also means communicating when something might not be going right. If a deadline won’t be met or an employee is struggling with a task — those hurdles need to be shared with the wider team, as it impacts them as well. Ownership creates commitment to seeing something through to the very end, and working through any obstacles that may come up in the process, as hard as they may be to navigate.
3. Build a foundation of trust
Having a stake in an organization and its success comes from not only believing in the company and its purpose, but believing in the people behind it too. The single most important thing to build a cohesive team in the workplace is trust.
One of the most simple ways to build trust among people in an organization is by being human. It sounds incredibly cliche, but trust comes from being vulnerable, showing emotion and connecting with others on a more personal level. This doesn’t have to mean sharing every intimate detail of one’s life, but offering details about weekend activities, telling a few jokes or even eating as a team can create a stronger bond in the workplace.
Trust in an organization also creates a safe space for employees to reveal concerns, share ideas or ask for help. People tend to keep great ideas to themselves because they’re scared about how others will react or are embarrassed to ask for help when they need it. Organizations that foster a welcoming and relaxed environment where people feel safe will see greater team collaboration because there’s nothing hindering people from speaking their minds.
4. Share clear goals but allow freedom in achieving them
A clear understanding of what’s expected among teams, without dictating how it’s delivered, gives people autonomy to get work done their way and still deliver results. When employees pave their own way to achieve something, it creates more intrinsic motivation and they feel even more of an attachment to it, because they’re overseeing the entire process on their terms from start to finish.
There may be some people who need prescriptive help, because they’ve never done a task before. In these cases, it’s best to offer a few options of ways employees can get to the end goal, so they can see for themselves which way works best and continue to evolve as they learn more.
Building a culture of ownership within an organization can be challenging because it’s something that everyone has to get on board with. But by helping employees understand where they fit in within an organization and how they’re making an impact, they’ll have a greater personal stake in the company and feel more ownership over what they’re doing.