Ownership Culture: Building a Team of Passionate, Invested Employees
— April 21st, 2023
When it comes to caring about work, what’s the difference between your typical leader or business owner and your typical employee?
Skin in the game.
Leaders, owners, and senior management usually have a significant personal investment in the success of the business, whether it be financial, reputational, or both. They have a greater stake in the annual results and feel motivated to ensure the organization’s success. By contrast, employees may not have the same sense of ownership, which can often lead to a lack of commitment to achieving the company’s goals and a disconnect from any success or failure.
Developing an ownership culture in an organization may take time and require a wholesale mindset shift, but it will bring considerable benefits. Feeling a sense of ownership of an organization has a profound impact on an employee—changing not only the way in which they work—but how they come to view their role.
In 2017 Gallup reported that only 2 in 10 employees strongly agreed that their performance was managed in a way that motivated them to do outstanding work. Just 30% of employees strongly agreed that their manager involved them in goal setting.
Over the past five years or so, have things improved?
In 2022, Gallup reported that 60% of people are “emotionally detached at work,” while 19% are “miserable”!
In 2023, just 33% of workers said the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important.
Clearly, organizations must take heed and shift their focus toward empowering their employees by creating a mentality of ownership. Let’s take a closer look at ownership culture, what it means, how it can be encouraged, and what the benefits are.
First, we need to discuss the difference between financial and psychological ownership. The distinction is important. With economic ownership or employee-owned companies, employees will typically be financially invested in the company through shares or stocks. This may have been part of an initial salary package or offered as an end-of-year bonus.
Ownership mentality (or psychology of ownership) is centered around employees being mentally connected or emotionally invested in an organization, and this is what we are talking about here. By embracing this mindset, employees focus on more than just monetary gain. They invest their time and energy into the company’s success because they feel like an owner; there is accountability there.
This ownership mentality is developed over time. It’s born out of a keener focus on everyday responsibilities and how each employee’s tasks contribute to an organization’s long-term vision and goals.
Nurturing an authentic ownership mentality among employees can lead to a sea change in an organization. But it doesn’t happen overnight. In most organizations, it will require a dramatic shift in thinking.
How Can Managers Kick-Start an Ownership Culture
Managers and leaders must buy into the shift in mindset as they will be instrumental in its success. Even though employees will take more ownership and responsibility, managers are needed to guide the ship. They will facilitate the change by “providing workers with the context, guidance, tools, and autonomy to minimize frustration and make their jobs meaningful.”
Communicate in an Open, Honest, and Effective Manner
This is the single most important managerial function. From the outset, a manager must be clear about who is doing what and how this aligns with the overarching vision and goals. An effective manager is open and honest and helps their team understand how their work impacts the organization’s overall success. This is an ongoing duty—not an annual tick-the-box task.
Keep the doors of communication open at all times. Employees will need guidance and an experienced ear. They are moving into a more proactive, self-driven role, which may be unfamiliar to them. It’s vital that managers are accessible as employees take the step into the ownership mindset.
Set Goals and Encourage Autonomy
Goals and performance metrics can act as powerful motivators for employees. By involving employees in the process and tying performance metrics to incentives, organizations can help align employees’ efforts with the company’s overall objectives. Plus, employees are more likely to feel invested when they have their say.
Involving employees in the process can help ensure the goals are realistic and achievable (use the SMART goals framework) since they know firsthand what is feasible within the organization.
The aim here is to encourage employees to see their success as being directly tied to the success of the organization.
Hold Employees Accountable
A manager must also hold employees accountable for their work. If goals are not met, managers should assess what happened, offer feedback, and plan for the next steps.
Cultivate a “Participatory Management” Culture
A “participatory management” style is one in which managers willingly share information with employees, involve them in important decisions, recognize their accomplishments publicly, and promote meaningful collaboration. By adopting this style and culture, a manager can play a key role in encouraging employees to think and act like owners.
How Organizations Can Move to a Culture of Ownership
Making this change will require a new way of thinking. The new focus will be on big-picture goals rather than short-term targets.
In most organizations, teams work on projects, often with tight deadlines and budgets. But fostering an ownership culture is about more than just delivering day-to-day tasks. It’s looking at an organization’s overall vision and long-term strategy and communicating this with clarity to each and every employee. Tools like Poppulo’s Harmony platform allow communicators to create impactful, tailored communications—essential for keeping employees informed and on the same page, particularly during these times of change.
An ownership culture leans into an organization’s mission. Each step completed is a step closer to achieving these goals. This approach elicits a strong sense of ownership and accountability as employees understand that what they are working toward is bigger than just hitting their own personal targets.
But employees can only focus on the big picture if they have access to all the facts. One of the traits of an ownership culture is transparency. Employees need to know where an organization is going and how far along it is—ensure they can see all relevant data, from sales figures to financial accounts. Armed with this information, employees make more informed decisions, set more accurate KPIs, and are generally more in tune with the organization.
What are the benefits of establishing authentic ownership culture?
Employees know they are working toward a larger goal and are more inclined to work harder
Employees take more initiative, coming up with creative or innovative ways to do their jobs.
With an ownership mentality, employees feel like an integral part of a company. They are granted more freedom to make a difference.
All of this adds up to improved morale and engagement. Employees know their work is valued, are involved in decision-making, and are treated as trusted team members.
As we know, engaged, loyal employees are more likely to stay at an organization. If they feel like they have ownership of the company, they are even more likely to stick around.
In a competitive job market, showcasing and highlighting ownership culture can help an organization stand out from the crowd.
Ownership culture can have a wide range of unique, positive effects on an organization. And, arguably, an ownership mindset is more powerful than economic ownership. "While competitors may surpass financial incentives, investing in employees emotionally can lead to higher productivity rates, engender loyalty, and ultimately improve retention rates.
Cultivating an ownership culture is a long game, requiring a shift in mindset. Managers play a crucial role in driving this change. By clearly defining roles and responsibilities, setting out realistic KPIs, encouraging autonomy and accountability, and offering complete transparency, managers can build a team of passionate, invested employees.