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Improve Performance Through Ownership

What is an employee? In the days when people were bound to a company or a household for life, an employee was part of a family. Now that jobs have become more transitory, employment has become riskier, it becomes harder for employees to feel part of a fabric. Employment has become “a contract where work is paid for, where one is the employer and the other is the employee.”

Many employees under such conditions feel a personal responsibility for quality in their work as long as the pay keeps coming, most will provide the services for which they are paid under the contracted terms. Not much emotional investment there. Many are constantly afraid of termination and most don’t want to tie themselves emotionally to their jobs. Labor is simply a sold commodity and the workplace is simply the market for labor.

The question is, how does a company establish ownership thinking in a wage-employment culture? When employees have a sense of ownership of the work they are selling, but also of the role they are playing, their work performance becomes self-motivated. They try constantly to improve on what they are doing because they are improving their own possession, not just preparing a product to sell to the boss. Solving this problem of giving employees a sense of ownership (in spite of the economic and social realities of employment) is a very important issue facing management in this day and age.

In his article in Forbes, consultant Micah Solomon recommends five things.

  1. Give your employees “nearly infinite discretion” to solve issues. He gives the example of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel that gives its employees $2,000 of discretionary hotel funding to solve each guest problem.
  2. Give your employees positive support to solve problems. Ownership of the problem in an employment situation should not be just sink-or-swim.
  3. Give an employee input into or control over how their own work is carried out. You can’t expect an employee to feel like an owner if they are micro-managed.
  4. Never underestimate the negative impact of someone who doesn’t work out in the workplace. If three people are acting and feeling like owners, a fourth person who spoils the emotional climate can be very destructive. Change has to be made.
  5. Value your employees. Don’t cheat them out of economic benefits or work hours. Remember the lives of the people who work for you. If you have to fire someone, do it graciously with an eye toward doing no harm.

An employee is someone who is selling labor to you as a boss. Jobs have become more temporary and risky in today’s economy. How can you make an employee feel more like an owner of his or her work under those circumstances? Allow them to own it by giving them the discretion to do their work in their own way with your support. Make sure you don’t let a disruptive influence poison the workplace. Value your employees, treat them with respect, and honor the understandings you have made with them.