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Ownership and Your Strategy – Where the Action (and business success) Really Happens

You’ve done everything right – your employees are all on the same page about who your customer is and why theydo business with your company; your strategy map has helped them understand your customer and business strategy and how they fit into the picture; and they have access to all the tools, training, resources, and management supports needed to implement your strategic objectives successfully. Yet this still doesn’t guarantee that your organization will successfully execute your customer and business strategy and achieve targeted levels of business growth.

It turns out that there is yet another critical missing piece in this puzzle and it has everything to do with taking the action required to execute your strategy. You see, until now all of your activity has been focused on setting the ideal stage for delivering your customer and business strategy. Now you need your organization to do something, and that something is putting these strategies into action.

Strategy is translated into action through the day-to-day work your organization completes to achieve the strategic objectives outlined on your strategy map. Typically, this work includes the business processes your employees work on every day and the projects and initiatives they contribute to. Key to getting the process and project work done that supports the achievement of your company’s strategy is the concept of ownership. It turns out that ownership is a critical foundation for successful strategy execution.

In my experience, ownership has two important elements: (1) a clear determination of who is responsible for doing what work by when; and (2) the communication of that ownership, and the associated performance expectations, to appropriate employees. In market-leading companies, identifying what needs to be done by when and assigning ownership roles are usually part of the strategic planning process. Ownership, including the associated performance expectations, is usually communicated to individual employees through their job descriptions, project charters, organizational work plans and personal goal plans, as well as through performance appraisals and management discussions.

However, it is important to realize that ownership can’t be a one-sided affair if a company wants to achieve high levels of performance and exceptional customer and business results. To attain this level of success on a sustained basis, the company has to take ownership as well. For an organization, ownership means doing everything necessary to set the stage for strategy execution success. That includes providing the resources and management supports required for employees to fulfill their own ownership role, and it also means ensuring that those necessary resources and supports are available as required on an ongoing basis.

So ownership is actually a two-way street, with employees and the organization itself making unique and important contributions that put your customer and business strategy into action.

The Ownership Continuum

While ownership is a critical element in strategy execution success, it is just the starting point. In the high-growth companies I have worked with, I’ve observed that there is actually a continuum of ownership for both employees and the company that ranges from responsibility to accountability to investment. The ownership continuum looks like this in any given organization.

The Ownership Continuum ModelTM

Ownership Continuum Model 1

Once ownership has been established for a specific activity, result, or outcome – either for an employee or the organization as a whole – the ownership continuum determines the degree of external versus internal motivation either has for the completion of the required activities.

Let’s take a closer look at the elements or zones on the ownership continuum.

Responsibility: By assigning ownership, you automatically award responsibility to an individual employee or group of employees. In most organizations, that ownership is assigned to an employee by someone other than the employee him or herself (often their manager). As a result, you could say that ownership – and therefore responsibility – is primarily externally driven, even when the employee has agreed to take on ownership as a condition of their employment. In my experience, when an employee is acting in the responsibility zone of the ownership continuum, they do what is required of them as per their work contract and their manager’s directions. In addition, employees operating in this ownership zone may require external prompts and close management by their direct supervisor to complete their work on time and/or to certain specifications. Essentially, at this end of the continuum, internal motivation and the self-management of work are low and the employee works to complete the job under direction.

When an organization is operating at the responsibility end of the ownership continuum, it does what it has to do to comply with performance requirements, usually imposed by an external source or entity. Examples include requirements such as employment law and regulatory standards. Audits and external reviews may be needed to verify compliance and these external controls are often the key drivers of organizational compliance and performance to threshold levels. 

Accountability: A move up the ownership continuum to the accountability zone demonstrates a shift to a higher level of internal motivation and drive. While external prompts and reviews may exist, an employee who demonstrates accountability generally doesn’t need these external drivers to get the work done – they simply act as a guide and performance feedback mechanism. In addition, employees working at the level of accountability demonstrate pride of ownership in their completion of work. They will certainly execute work to specifications, however they will often do that and more – exceeding performance expectations on a frequent basis without prompting.

When companies demonstrate accountability they essentially do the same thing. They do what’s required without anyone looking over their shoulder because they are primarily intrinsically motivated to do what they need to do.     

Investment: While many organizations aspire to accountability, the truth is that, to maximize success, they should reach for the level of investment on the ownership continuum. In the investment zone, each employee fully understands, internalizes, and commits to the spirit and intent behind the ownership roles they have been given. When an employee feels their ownership this deeply, they take their role and responsibilities very personally. They do what they do not because it’s expected or required of them but because they care passionately about what they are doing. In addition, when employees are operating in the investment zone, they take action and come up with creative solutions that are outside of their work responsibilities but are aligned with the spirit and intent, mission and values of the organization. That is, they do what it takes in their part of the world to put the customer and business strategy into action and achieve desired customer and business outcomes.

When a company demonstrates investment, they go above and beyond required standards and do things that embody the intent of, and are in alignment with, their customer and business strategy. For example, while providing a good employee benefits program demonstrates accountability for employee support and care, providing onsite childcare and an employee gym facility demonstrates investment by an employer in the health, well-being, happiness, and – ultimately – productivity of their employees. No one is requiring them to do this – they do it because they are truly committed to their employees and the organization understands the role of happy, healthy, and engaged employees in the successful execution of the customer and business strategy and the achievement of high levels of business performance.

Ownership is the foundation for putting your company’s strategy into action. It is important to realize that there are actually two ownership continuums in play in any given organization. And while there are three ownership “zones” on each ownership continuum, if you want your company to be a market leader the investment end of the ownership continuum is all that should matter to you – for both your organization and your employees.

This is an excerpt from my recently released book Business Results Revolution: Three Critical Questions and the Conversations That Transform Business Performance Every Day NOW AVAILABLE at Amazon.com, Chapters.ca, and Volumesdirect.com.

Buy the book to discover how to leverage your organization’s investment ownership profile to achieve business success and to learn the secrets to creating a simple and easy-to-follow roadmap for achieving exceptional results in any business environment. 

Also, please go to www.businessresultsrevolution.com to download your free copy of the companion Business Results Revolution Workbook.