Just about every business preaches the benefits of building a culture of accountability.
“Leaders need to be accountable,” managers say. “Employees need to be accountable. We must do everything possible to ensure accountability at all levels of the organization.”
They say it, but they’re wrong.
Why? Most organizations strive for building accountability, but that kind of culture actually creates problems instead of solving problems.
Instead, what every organization needs is to build is a culture of ownership.
Accountability vs. ownership.
As I define it, accountability is something assigned or given. I can assign accountability. I can instruct an employee to perform a task or even accomplish a goal. But in effect I still own that task or goal. I tell the employee what I want, I define success and I create metrics to measure that success. That’s accountability. The employee takes responsibility for getting done what I want.
Ownership isn’t assigned or given. Ownership is taken. I can’t appoint ownership. It happens when an employee comes forward and says, “I’m going to make this happen. Here’s what I will do. Here’s what I will accomplish. And here’s how I will measure progress.”
Ownership means saying, “You will” is unnecessary because the employee has already said, “I will.”
People who take ownership (because again, ownership is taken) naturally have the habit of exposing problems because those issues get in the way of their success. They want to overcome problems.
So they’ll raise issues, admit short-term failures and ask for help -- all because they want to succeed.
People given accountability, on the other hand, tend to hide problems. They tend not to raise issues. They tend not to ask for help.
Supercharging a business.
If you only have one or two employees and you love to micromanage, you can get by with hiring people you will simply hold accountable.
But if you’re truly trying to scale your business for growth, micromanagement soon fails. There is simply no way a chief can be involved in every task, process and decision.
If you foster a culture of ownership, you don’t need to be involved in every detail. You can focus your attention elsewhere, secure in the knowledge that owners will always come to you when they have problems or need help.
Why? They’re driven by their own desire to succeed.
Taking the right direction.
Since leading owners involves influencing rather than directing, effective communication is the key.
Say that the company leader doesn’t know the nuts and bolts of a particular work function like marketing. But he or she will definitely know the results desired from the company's marketing efforts.
So the conversation is easy. The boss can say, “This is what I want. So what do you need?” The marketing team can then comes up with its ideas, projects and metrics. Then the leader ensures that the visions are aligned.
If I do know the nuts and bolts of a particular function, then I spend time with the person who will own it to share how I perform such tasks, how I think about them and what I worry about. That way the employee can take that function and reshape it within his or her vision.
And that way our visions become aligned. But the employees involved have the freedom to bring their thoughts and ideas to the project.
The way to hire.
When you hire your first employees, you're making a definite choice about the kind of company you will build because your first employees often grow into leadership positions.
If you hire people such that you have to assign accountability, you build a company where leaders implement their ideas by enforcing processes and procedures.
If you hire owners, you build a company where employees are engaged and satisfied because they thrive in a culture of autonomy and independence.
Hire owners. People care a lot more when something is theirs: their idea, processes, and responsibility. They care the most when they feel they are depended on -- and given the authority -- to make important decisions and do what's right.
Outstanding leaders create broad standards and guidelines and then challenge their employees by giving them the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. They allow employees to turn "yours" into "ours," transforming work into an outward expression of each person's unique skills, talents and experiences.
That's a challenge every employee wants to face -- and one that great leaders instinctively provide.
Hire owners. Foster a culture of ownership.
Not only is it the best way to grow and scale a company. It’s also a lot more fun.