Ownership & Responsibility

To get ownership you must give ownership.

Story category: Values

Story tags: values, ownership, responsibility, culture, management

One of our values, or rather value combinations, is “Ownership & Responsibility”.


The definition of responsibility, we use, is: “Responsibility is the duty to decide and act within a defined area of operations”. 


Responsibility is usually coupled with Accountability, which we define as: “Accountability is to report on and take ownership of defined results connected to set responsibilities.


Although accountability is a good concept, it is often used as the sword of Damocles. The sword hangs over people’s heads and will come down as punishment for non-compliance. Although compliance is important in some cases (safety for example), compliance is not a great model to run the entire company on.


Compliance vs Commitment


Compliance is rule based (commandments), the rules are set by a higher power (management) and compliance is very often enforced through checks and punishments (audits and penalties). All these mechanisms lead to compliant behavior; people are following the rules. The issue is often (we have noticed) that the “compliance model” is used as a general method to manage everything. This means that its not just used for making sure that for example important safety regulations are followed, but also to manage deadlines of production schedules, problem solving and continuous improvement activities, projects, requests, etc.


The problem with the compliance mode of working is that the rules and plans come from outside, are enforced through mechanisms of control, and non-compliance is met with negative consequences. At best this leads to getting “compliance” and “extrinsic motivation”; doing things that are requested/instructed in return for rewards or avoiding punishment.


Commitment, on the other hand, is when people are in it for the game, not just for the rewards or for avoiding punishments. Commitment is a great thing, as people go beyond the compliance of what is being asked of them; commitment comes from the inside and originates from having ownership.


The word ownership has been mentioned already a few times, so let’s have a look at ownership. Ownership means that you possess something over which you have control. The compliance mode of working is per definition the opposite of “ownership”.


The question is how management can expect ownership from people, when people do not own the problems they face, do not own the process of solving those problems, do not own the planning of projects, etc. The compliance mindset takes all the necessary ingredients away for people to have ownership over their world. The deciders (managers) own everything though making the rules, setting the plans, etc., but when it’s time for responsibility and accountability, then very often the same managers point their fingers at the front line.


This is not written as a crusade against management, but as a reminder that limiting ownership at the front lines does not lead to commitment, motivation, and proactiveness. It leads to waiting for instruction and compliantly following what ever it is that management is asking from its front lines.


If a manager wants commitment, motivation, and proactiveness then start with giving ownership over things. This looks like losing control, but when you have put effort in 1) developing technical competence, 2) enhancing understanding of the direction of the company, and 3) have invested in a matching culture, this actually increases control as well as quality and speed of outcomes.



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