A Matter of Job Ownership

by Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Back in 1995, I was fortunate enough to leave an employer just before a major acquisition occurred. In October of 2003, I was not as fortunate. In the weeks preceding the unexpected sale of my most recent full time employer, we had been having a variety of discussions amongst the operations team about the significance of job ownership, and how a sense of ownership impacts human performance. The announcement of the sale only served to heighten the importance of this concept.

With the new owners coming in, we had a chance to reflect on how much ownership our people currently had in the old company, and theorize about how this sense of ownership might shift following the announcement. In the weeks that followed the change, it was interesting to notice how people still referred to the old owners as if they were still in charge. It was also interesting to observe how people modified their performance in the wake of new ownership. In some cases, productivity improved significantly. In other cases, performance levels actually slipped.

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How Much Job Ownership Do Your People Have?

People take job ownership in things they believe in, whether they are work practices, ways of building relationships with others, or providing value to the customer each day. The manner in which a given company treats its people – how much information is shared, how compensation is structured, how often people are trained, and how people are treated when problems occur – goes a long way towards laying a foundation for high performance. Unfortunately, we often discount the power of ownership in improving performance, just as we often fail to design our work systems to promote higher levels of job ownership.

Think about the different factors that drive the pace at which our people work. The simplest example exists when we look at walking speed. I walk a lot of miles a day at work. By walking four to five miles an hour instead of two or three, I gain precious seconds each day. Does my level of ownership in my team’s success, or the success of the company, affect my walking speed? Is there a difference in the amount of ownership I feel towards my team versus the company?

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The level of job ownership that may or may not exist in the hearts and minds of our people consistently challenges us as we attempt to implement lean, six sigma, or other improvement initiatives in the workplace. For example, we can help drive a quick changeover mentality by designing our change parts properly, having all necessary tools at hand, and by providing clear documentation on how the changeover should occur. We cannot however design in changes that make a person do a six inch reach in five tenths of a second instead of eight tenths. Ownership has to provide that type of motivation.

What are Some Indicators of Low Ownership?

“I don’t care” attitudes are perhaps the best indicator of a lack of job ownership. Material waste is one example of a reflection of such attitudes. Absenteeism and tardiness can serve as additional indicators. We often look for such attitudes among the hourly ranks. Should we show more concern for the degree of such thinking among our salaried people? Waste is much easier to track on the front lines. That does not mean it doesn’t also exist relative to white collar work.

As ownership declines, so does the pace of work. Have you ever worked in a company where ownership was high across the workforce? If not, then you probably will have a hard time visualizing how the pace of work can change as ownership levels increase. Additionally, you will struggle to put into perspective the degree to which your current levels of performance are falling short of their potential. I would suspect that in the average company, ownership levels are very inconsistent, and at a below average level. Should this be the case, we are really missing out on an opportunity to significantly increase our levels of output and quality, while naturally also reducing our costs.

How Can You Promote Higher Levels of Job Ownership?

Ownership is best promoted by giving people a financial stake in the success of the company. Stock ownership is the best form of this type of compensation if a company is publicly held. If you don’t want to go to that extent, consider a monthly or quarterly profit share model. If even that form of added compensation is too much of a change, a lack of ownership may exist already in your ranks. Recognition alone is not enough to drive and sustain high, wide spread levels of employee ownership.

Increase the frequency of customer visits to your facility to promote more job ownership. Ownership and pride are very closely related. Giving your people the chance to show off their work is perhaps the best way to increase pride in workmanship. A strong, supportive management presence on the floor also helps, but external customers have more of an impact on pride than internal customers do.

Do you feel that there is a high level of ownership in your current company? If not, what factors have contributed to the decline of ownership? What changes do you think need to be made in order to begin driving ownership levels higher? Do you believe that ownership is important? What is your role in helping to ensure that ownership levels remain high or increase? Try throwing those questions out at your next leadership team meeting.

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Job Ownership in the Future

In the future, I believe that measuring ownership will become a requisite in high performing organizations. The great ones already do it on a consistent basis in some form or fashion. We will need to measure ownership in the coming years because we will be placing greater and greater value on mind speed, in addition to valuing the pace of physical movement. If we don’t have the hearts of our people, they will be able to restrict their performance in two key ways, no just one.

Eventually, we will pick the low hanging fruit from the six sigma and lean performance improvement trees. Once that fruit is gone, we will seek out the next set of tools or philosophies that will help take us to the next higher level of performance. We might want to begin however by simply looking at the correlation between ownership and performance levels. In doing so, we might be able to short circuit some unnecessary fads before they take too many of our training hours and dollars. How much ownership do you personally feel in your company, and why? What would you change to drive ownership to higher levels?

Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

If you would like more information about the improvement tools and systems I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com.

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