Ownership and Accountability

December 31, 2018

Ownership and Accountability

A common goal for many managers is to get employees to take ownership of their work.  That sense of accountability and responsibility obviously results in positive outcomes, especially greater work performance and proactive behaviour.  But there are downsides, too.  Soon-to-be-published research in the Journal of Applied Psychology reveals what these are and how you can increase your team’s ownership without generating those consequences.

First, the downsides.  Three have been identified.  People who embody high levels of ownership are significantly more likely to be territorial (i.e. “this is mine, not yours”); to withhold information (such as useful tips and lessons learned); and to behave unethically (because they feel threatened that others may infringe upon what they perceive to be rightfully theirs).

The research, which comprised two studies of almost 500 people and included employees as well as their supervisors, discovered approach motivation inspires employees to take the type of ownership that results in positive outcomes, while avoidance motivation still generates ownership but with the adverse side effects noted above.

Approach motivation occurs when people are driven by what they hope to gain – their potential – and are usually compelled to build productive relationships with their colleagues.

Avoidance motivation is when they’re driven by the fear of what they might lose, such as what they perceive to be their personal possessions, not least of which is job ownership.

To be the kind of manager who inspires more of the approach method than the avoidance one, consider the following suggestions:

  • Involve employees in goal setting … but thoroughly explain your guiding purpose.
  • Delegate authority, not just work … but make sure you set clear parameters.
  • Allow flexibility for how the work is to be done … but be forgiving of mistakes.
  • Provide sufficient resources … but don’t be a micromanager.
  • Hold people accountable … but always express confidence in their abilities.
  • Praise them for stepping up … but give constructive feedback, too, when you notice anyone overstepping boundaries of professionalism.

Job ownership can be a double-edged sword but it’s still an objective worth pursuing.