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Ownership: The Key to Transforming Your Team or Organization

Transforming the culture of an organization or team is not easy. It is a long-term process. It doesn’t happen overnight. And, typically, it is not a smooth ride. There are ups and downs, moments of excitement, feelings of progress and success, as well as moments of frustration that things are not moving fast enough or not at all.

There are three typical phases in any transformational process: (1) creation and launch, (2) concentrated effort and execution, and (3) momentum and breakthrough.

The first phase of creation and launch is the easiest phase of the process and typically very energizing. In this phase, people envision and commit to a compelling future state for their organization and/or team, and everyone is excited and hopeful about achieving a great vision.

The second phase of concentrated effort and execution is the hardest and most challenging phase of any transformation journey. In this phase, people have to work hard to start achieving the objectives they took on in the creation and launch phase, while at the same time continue to run their day-to-day business. So, in this phase, people have to manage two jobs – creating the new future AND maintaining the existing. Juggling these two worlds requires foresight, vision and stance.

It actually becomes even more challenging – in the second phase people have to put their heads down and execute on what they took on in phase one, and it usually takes time before they can see the fruits of their labor. I often refer to it as putting in 10 units of effort in order to get 1 unit of progress/results. So, you can appreciate why people need to keep believing and operating with their future state in mind.

Think of it through the “caterpillar-to-butterfly” analogy. In phase one, the caterpillar gets excited about the prospect of being a butterfly who is free to roam with no restrictions. Then, in the second phase, the caterpillar finds himself inside the cocoon and suddenly life doesn’t look as exciting as it did in phase one. In fact, any normal caterpillar can become discouraged quite quickly about the whole butterfly idea. Suddenly, becoming a butterfly seems much less achievable and attractive than before.

This is exactly the emotional roller coaster organizations and teams go through in their transformation process – especially in the second phase.

Here is an example: I was working with a large service company on their transformation. They wanted to take their culture, performance and results to a new level. In phase one, they created a very powerful and exciting future vision and strategy that everyone felt genuinely excited about. Their strategy included initiatives that were designed to change the game in key areas that were important to them.

Then it was time to execute on these new initiatives and it wasn’t easy at all. Every time I would come to the organization for coaching sessions people would stop me in the hallways to brief me on how things were going.

I was getting two different types of reports from different people – some would pull me into their office to tell me how well things were going. Others stopped me to complain and tell me how badly things were going.

Many of the people who were complaining to me about the process seemed to be telling me that “my program wasn’t working.”

This mindset of reduced ownership for the change is very typical in phase two. The problem with thinking that the program is my program is that this is neither true nor empowering. This point of view reflects lack of ownership.

When I help an organization go to the next level, I facilitate programs to bring about change. However, I always make a point to remind people that they are not participating in my program. Rather, I am supporting them in their program. That paradigm of ownership is much more effective and empowering.

In fact, my ability to help the organization in its transformation is in direct correlation to the level of ownership the organization has toward their transformation process. So, I am constantly pushing on that aspect. The power and magic of transformation is in the ownership.

The big question of ownership for any team is: What future are you going to prove right?

It may seem an odd question at first. But, if you think about it – everyone is always proving something right, by default or by design. Either that their transformation will work and therefore is working OR that it won’t work, and therefore it isn’t working. That’s what the phrase – the game is over before it began – means.

When a team owns their process and they are out to prove that it works, they will go out of their way to figure it out. They won’t waste time complaining because that just doesn’t change anything. Think of it as “making lemonades from lemons” rather than complaining that “the lemons are so sour.”

Phase two takes time and a lot of perseverance. It’s not about perfection but about progress – continuing to drive progress and own the journey.

The third phase of momentum and breakthrough is the most rewarding phase of the transformation journey. But it only happens when the team stays the course in phase two. Unfortunately, so many teams fail in their transformational process because they simply don’t stay the course in phase two. They lack ownership, foresight and perseverance.

But, when they do, things start picking up and taking off, and in a hockey stick trend the team starts achieving momentum, results and breakthroughs beyond their expectation and imagination.

Photo by: Laura Bittner

If you want to have power, take ownership

I truly believe that there are no coincidences in life. Things always happen for a reason. Many times, it is easy for us to see that cause-and-effect reason. For example: we raised our voice at someone, they were offended and it caused a rift in our partnership and trust. Now they don’t want to work with us.

Other times we can’t immediately see the bigger reason or lesson taking place. We scratch our head and wonder “why did this happen to me?” or “why did I not get the result I wanted when I wanted it so badly and/or I worked so hard to get it?” But, after some time lapse—which often gives new perspective—we have an “aha moment” and we get it.

Sometimes, we feel very attached to an outcome. We feel we just have to achieve it. Our brand and self-worth depends on it. Then, after we didn’t receive it, we realize that “not getting that outcome turned out to be the best outcome for us.”

I believe that most of the time the circumstances and results that we have around us are a function of something about us – our attitude and mindset or actions and behaviors.

Even if what I wrote above is not physically, scientifically or factually true… and it couldn’t be proven, I still believe it is a valid and powerful philosophy from which to view our life and the world around us.

In fact, I coach leaders and people on this topic all the time. People often tend to blame others or the circumstances for their shortfalls and inability to achieve what they want. In most cases, people are simply blind to their own shortcomings and how these impact their surroundings.

For example, I was coaching an executive who is very ambitious and successful. He had achieved great results in his division and he desperately wanted to be promoted to the next level. But, without realizing it, because of his ambition he has frequently treated people around him, including his peers, in what they experienced as an arrogant and condescending manner. In fact, many viewed him as always looking out for, and promoting himself, even at the expense of others. When the time came for his colleagues to give him their vote of confidence for his promotion, they were reluctant. He didn’t end up getting the promotion and, as you can imagine, he felt offended very upset. He blamed others for not getting the promotion, rather than looking inward and owning that he had something to do with people’s experience of him. I deal with this type of dynamic in organizations all the time.

Taking genuine ownership is a transformational step. Sometimes it requires courage to face reality. But, looking in the mirror and owning the situation, especially if it is uncomfortable or challenging, is a game changer. It moves people from being smaller than their problems to being bigger than their problems. I have found that when this shift happens, people always tend to feel more empowered, eager and excited to take action and turn things around.

Taking ownership has a similar impact on the good things as it does on the bad. When we take ownership of our great accomplishments and successes, it also compels and empowers us to step up to the next level of self-expression with greater confidence and faith. People who don’t take ownership of their greatness seem to be more held back and apologetic in and about their life.

Taking ownership gives us power to learn from history so that we can drive things in the future to new heights. It the mandatory step for taking the game to the next level in any area. And, as the saying goes, “The truth shall set us free.” Even if first it “pisses us off.”

The more controlling you are the less control you have

Most managers who micromanage their employees suppress their spirit and performance.

Employee’s performance is directly tied to their sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability for the success of their organization. Their passion, ownership, commitment and accountability are reduced when they feel distrusted, disrespected and under-valued from a leadership and/or professional standpoint by their manager.

By micromanaging their people, managers generate an environment of compliance and fear. And that typically cause people to play it safe and “cover their behinds” instead of stepping up and going beyond the call of duty to take ownership, risk and initiative.

Managers who are consumed with micromanaging their employees are focused on the wrong things. Instead, they should be providing leadership and confidence to their team by identifying their next strategic objectives, inspiring their employees to take them on, and ensuring that the organization has the wherewithal to execute them.

In fact, micromanagement puts in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy: The manager relates to his people as uncommitted, incompetent and/or unreliable. The people in turn play it safe and don’t take ownership, risk and accountability. This confirms the manager’s view and he continues to micromanage.

The issue lies with the manager. Most managers who micromanage and control their people do it beause of their own insecurity and fear of failure, and not because their employees are ,in fact, incompetent or uncommitted.

In order to strike the appropriate balance between being on top of things and not hovering over their people, managers must put the following building blocks in place and manage them effectively:

  •  They must build a team that they trust in terms of commitment and competency. And they must establish a dynamic of authentic, honest and courageous communication within their team.
  • They must align their team members around their vision of the future – a clear vision and/or set of objectives that all team members clearly understand and are on the same page about; a future that everyone feels genuinely passionate about, committed to and accountable for, as their own.
  • They must orient their team members around results and deliverables rather than tasks and activities in order to build an environment of real accountability (accountability can only exist when there are clear measurable results to manage).
  • They must ensure that roles, accountabilities, expectations and processes are completely clear to all team members, in order to eliminate the chance of ambiguity, excuses or mischief in this regard.
  • Lastly, they must put in place a simple and effective mechanism and process for tracking all key commitments, deliverables and promised results on a monthly and quarterly basis in order to eliminate confusion or lack of accountability. They should structure their executive team as the cabinet accountable for the achievement of the collective future (not just ‘each to their own’), hence dedicate monthly or quarterly team meetings to track and review progress.

If someone is not performing up to an agreed-upon standard or expectation, managers must be willing to have a straight and honest conversation that either elevates the individual to a higher level of performance, or makes it clear that someone else needs to be brought in to do the job.

If the manager has built a strong team dynamic of honest communication and authentic ownership toward his future there will be no need for micromanagement because his team members will be operating in a very powerful and responsible way toward making results happen.

In the absence of real ownership and honesty no amount of micromanagement will be effective anyway.