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Building a Culture of Ownership Not Engagement

When building a culture of ownership, we all know one of the key attributes of organizational and cultural success is engagement. Gallup is one of the authorities in both research and work within engagement, and they define engagement as employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Through Gallup Daily tracking, Gallup categorizes workers as "engaged" based on their responses to key workplace elements it has found predict important organizational performance outcomes.


This has been a great contributor to our business society in intentionalizing engagement as a critical initiative for our organizations, not just the view that it was an "HR thing." However, if we’re building a culture of ownership based on where we are today as a society, and not just because of COVID, let's really ask ourselves this question: whether you’re on a board, executive team, or leadership team of an organization, is engagement really what we want when we first think about our top leaders and then associates/employees to fully achieve our greater vision? It is more than just being involved, enthusiastic, and committed. It is more than just how we respond to a survey. That does not translate to the discretionary effort, innovation, and resilience we need to realize impact and transformation we want now and for the long-term.


In our transformational work with our clients, and within our own research, we have found that the DNA that truly fuels rapid and sustainable organizational transformation are organizations that are built on ownership, not engagement. We have defined ownership as being all-in and invested into the shared purpose of achieving the greater impact on the other side of the work you do. This is both in the day to day and how that fuels the long-term at the same time.


For example, if we look at the finance/accounting department, it is not about just providing the P&L, A/R, financial position, budget, or custom reports. That is engagement, which is good, and yes, those are needed, but it is about translating that to intelligence that directly aligns to our stakeholders' strategy and, ultimately, the organization. The end goal for the accounting department then is to help the organization and key stakeholders make better decisions. That is ownership. Imagine if all of accounting functions were built on the decisions they need to help make this month and were accountable to that what would shift. How would that shift the training you and/or your L&D function would provide to them?


So, for L&D, how do we go about building a culture of ownership, not engagement in how we run our functions, whether domestic or global, and how does that relate to the business units, regions, stakeholders, and people we serve?


  1. To truly understand the strategic objectives of the organization when it comes to the impact both above ground in value creation and results generation, and below ground, in the overall culture and capability we need to build in the following four areas:

a. Our Marketplace

b. Our Customers

c. Our Organization

d. Our People


2. For the stakeholders, unlock their core objectives, both above ground and below ground, and showcase how that directly connects to the organization as well as how that intersects with the other key functions or regions of the organization.


3. Clarify why this truly matters to them personally and why it matters to each of their team members. From there, upon achieving these core objectives, what impact will that have on the career paths and fulfillment for them and their people? Note: This is where you start to really ignite ownership.


4. Now, this translates to clarifying what the capability is (see article #2 that we wrote on building capability not skills) that they need to build and what that experience needs to look like from L&D to ensure true impact. To build the right experience start with these steps:

a. Define with your stakeholders what is the engagement they need from their associates to drive the success of the department/region/business unit.

b. Clarify what must shift and what must be eliminated for the year, month, and week, so that this becomes hardwired to our core projects, initiatives, and tasks.

c. After that is established, then we ask: what do you want them to take ownership of to ensure we are achieving the ultimate impact for our marketplace, customers, organization, and/or people? What must shift, what must be eliminated?


5. From there, you then hold a kickoff meeting each year that, beyond any training, establishes your role in being that strategic partner (critical shift #1), to build that capability (critical shift #2), and to do that, we must take ownership not engagement (critical shift #3).


So, let's stop pretending that engagement is the finish line in the journey of transforming, optimizing, or turning around our organizations and people. It may start with engagement, but it ends with taking ownership.


To your success.

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