Why Employees Don't Take Ownership of Results

A common lament of business leaders is that their people don't "get" what's most important. They want their people to think and perform like a business partner but they seldom find them engaged on that level. There seems to be a consistent disconnect and the constant preaching about priorities and targets falls on deaf ears. To make matters worse, many employees act entitled and seem frustrated they aren't earning more--or that this year's bonus is no bigger than last. It's enough to make an owner scream. (If it will make you feel better, go ahead and let one out right now!) "Why don't my employees care more about the right results?"

That scenario plays itself out every day in businesses large and small throughout the country. It's a problem virtually all organizations experience and want to solve. The good news is there is a solution--and I'm going to give you part of the answer right now.

When companies experience what's just been described, there is usually one or more of four potential disconnects occuring in the minds of employees:

  1. No Compelling Future. Employees need to be able to both envision  the future of the business and see themselves in it. This means they not only like where the company is headed and believe the business can realize its growth goals, but that they understand their role in that future and how they can have an impact. Employees that either aren't compelled by the company's future or don't yet see how they fit into its fulfillment won't take ownership of results seriously. They see it as the owner's vision and not their own--and the same with the outcomes the company is focused on. Until this gap is filled, no employee is going to care about the incremental results that  have to be realized for the larger goal to be achieved.
  2. Negative Work Environment. Premier employees are looking to perform a role not just fill a position. Roles are outcome focused instead of duties centered. Great people have unique abilities and want to know that their efforts are making a strategic difference. Therefore, they want to work within the realm of their highest contribution and have the means of removing barriers that impede their ability to do so (irrelevant projects, toxic people, inadequate resources, etc.). If an employee isn't yet taking ownership of results, it might be because he isn't yet feeling the freedom to fulfill his role.
  3. No Opportunities for Personal or Professional Growth. The individuals who are in the best position to have a positive impact on your organization are likewise looking for the organization to have a positive impact on them. By this I mean that they look at their association with the company as a means of further developing their capabilities. They are always evaluating whether the resources of the company are helping them improve personally and professionally. Intuitively, they ask themselves: "Will my unique abilities be advanced or diminished by the projects and people with which I'm involved here?" If this fulfillment isn't part of their experience, they won't see their role as a stewardship and therefore won't own the results. The results are a measure of their individual contribution and reflect not just a company achievement but a personal one.
  4. Misaligned Financial Rewards. Ultimately, pay communicates the kind of partnership a company wants to have with its people.  It codifies the role owners want  their key talent  to play (especially top producers) and gives form to the stewardship they expect them to assume. If results aren't being "owned" by employees, there is a very good chance the financial partnership is not yet properly framed. For example, there may be too much emphasis on guaranteed compensation and not enough pay at risk. Or, there may be eligibility for an annual bonus but no long-term value-sharing arrangement in place (stock, phantom equity. bonus pool, etc.).  How people are paid communicates what's important to leadership.  Don't expect your people to take ownership of results if the way they're compensated conveys those outcomes aren't all that important to you.Disconnected employees don't take ownership of results.

In the end, employees take ownership of results in organizations that execute a wealth multiplier philosophy. They involve their people as key stakeholders--business partners--and structure everything in a way that improves the chance for results to create a wealth multiple for all contributors. This happens in organizations that communicate a compelling vision, build a culture of confidence, create opportunities for personal and professional devlepment and engineer a pay strategy that aligns rewards with the roles and results the company wants its people to own.

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