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Employee Ownership - 2 September 2014

The concept of ownership, from a psychological perspective, is centred on this question: “What do I feel is mine and a part of me?”  That question is relevant at home and at work.  The more affirmatively you answer it, the more likely you are to invest substantial amounts of energy protecting it and enhancing it.

In your personal life, you might address that question positively if what you’re referring to is your house, hobby, garden, car, health, or children.  As a result, ownership is present, and so you’re destined to do whatever it takes to look after it.  

At work, a similar principle applies.  If you can categorically say “my job is mine and a part of me”, chances are you’ll invest significant amounts of energy making it a success.  If your employees can say the same thing, they’re almost certainly dedicating time and effort into making their performance as excellent as possible.  Many employees, however, can’t say that.  And, in essence, that's what a lack of ownership is all about.

Two new studies have been published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour, both of which provide clues on what to do about it.  The studies found complex jobs are the key ingredient.  That’s because complexity generates greater opportunities for employees to feel competent, influential, important, motivated and smarter, all of which are directly related to ownership.  

But complex jobs are not enough - they're just the beginning.  Once that part of the equation is taken care of, there are three additional elements to incorporate:

Work methods:  Employees are more inclined to take ownership when they feel as though they’re free to decide how their work should be completed.  

Work scheduling:  They’re also more open to ownership if they’re given the independence to determine the order in which their tasks are done.

Decision-making:  Ownership is ramped up further when they can use their personal initiative while carrying out their work.  

So, to sum up, employees are usually willing to assume ownership; they’re just not prepared for it.  That preparation comes from, first, the creation of complex jobs so that opportunities for ownership exist and, second, the autonomy to make decisions.  Both of those, incidentally, require a fair bit of trust, without which employees don’t feel ownership; they just feel owned.


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