Ever had that situation where your boss has sold you a really awful task or project and tried to dress it up as “for your own development”? You both know the job’s a dog but you play along because it was your boss that asked. How was your motivation to get that job done to the very best of your ability? I would guess that you completed it, after all you’re a team player. But did it really light your fire? Was it the first thing you tackled every morning? Did you care about it, deep down?
I have a very clear view on the idea of “ownership”. I think it is critical to sustained high performance. It is the sense that:
- What I am doing is important enough to me that I will give everything to it
- I want to deliver this project to the very best of my ability
- It will be delivered to a high quality
- I’m willing to push through the tough times in order to deliver it
My take is that you can’t give ownership. I think managers and leaders can give a task or a project but not the ownership that goes with it and in turn, promote the sort of feelings listed above. They can’t give that sense of closeness and importance that we would recognize in people who genuinely “own” the tasks they have taken on. That comes from something internal and that’s a connection many bosses miss.
No Hard Sell
Let’s be honest, the mere fact that you have the title “Manager” means that people will do a job if you ask or tell them to. Indeed, there are times when this approach is wholly appropriate. When time or risk reduction are critical factors, then you telling people what and how you want them to deliver is not only ok, but it is your responsibility to ensure that it happens that way. Just don’t forget that whilst people can sometimes see the “bigger picture” and will throw themselves willingly into the situation, in order to help out, that won’t work every time and certainly won’t create a thinking, proactive workforce in the long-term.
Be the Opportunity Creator
While I think you can’t give ownership I think good managers and leaders excel at creating opportunities for people to take ownership. Here are elements that need to be in place to create the right environment for people to take ownership and as a result, drive great performance:
No point in trying to encourage people to take charge of their own performance if both you and they aren’t crystal clear on what they need to do. If you are clear about what you want but they aren’t, then they either will resist starting or will probably deliver something quite different to what you wanted. Be clear in what and how you communicate. Does this person prefer written communication? Do they want a few minutes of your time in order to chat things through and make sense of it for themselves? Whatever helps gain clarity, is time well spent. Invest up front in order reap the benefits later on.
You can’t hope to find ways of motivating people and aligning what fires them up, unless you improve your knowledge of them and understand what conditions they tend to produce their best work. Continuous communication with members of your team is a good way to improved understanding. The most frequent changes I see managers and leaders make as a result of receiving coaching is increasing the 1:1 meetings they hold with their team. The reason is simple: it builds closer rapport and understanding that leads to much improved performance.
There appears to be a link between the level of trust managers have in members of their team and the amount of ‘directing’ they do with them. The higher the trust, the more freedom people are given to get on with performing.
Some people are given low trust for very good reasons - especially where their level of knowledge is not where it needs to be, to be able to operate safely and effectively on their own. Yet, there are many managers who seem slow at slackening the leash and giving people the space and trust to take on projects and run with them. The irony is the managers themselves get in the way and not only promote but demand an overly tight level of control. How is that going to affect the level of ownership that an individual is going to feel?
Loosen up as early as you can, would be my advice. I don’t mean abandon the monitoring and reviewing that is central to your role but it is likely to hugely improve motivation and performance if individuals feel more trusted by you, rather than less trusted.
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