Getting team members to take more ownership over their areas of work can lead to fantastic things – people who see themselves as the true owners of their work tend to think more creatively, drive work forward with more urgency, and get better results – and also free up you, the manager, to spend your time on higher level work.
But if you want people to take more ownership over their work, you need to manage them with that in mind. That means:
1. Make sure that you’ve delegated real responsibility and meaningful goals. Ownership is really about owning the full weight of a responsibility – being the person to obsess over how to make something successful, spot problems, devise solutions, and be accountable for its results. This won’t happen, though, if you use team members as “helpers” to you, rather than giving them real responsibility for meaningful chunks of work. Rather than delegating activities (“talk to the client about X”), delegate outcomes (“you’re in charge of making sure the client fully understands the implications of X and feels good about how we’re moving forward”). That will give your people more leeway to be creative in finding the best way to get something done and instill a sense of ownership for the result, not just the action.
2. Don’t jump in and take over when you see a work not going as planned. It can be very tempting to do this so that you can just get the project fixed and back on track, but if you do, you’ll be undermining your efforts to get people to take more ownership. Instead, talk with the staff member about what needs to change and then ask her to make those changes. Otherwise, in the future she’ll be more likely to see you as the main “owner” rather than herself. Similarly...
3. Make a habit of asking, “What do you think we should do?” When you’re talking with a staff member about a possible problem or obstacle, or even just when batting around different options for a project or approach, make a point of asking for the person’s thoughts. And ideally, do this before you share your own thoughts, since otherwise people are likely to be swayed by the extra weight that your words carry as the boss.
4. Make feedback a conversation, not a one-way pronouncement. When you talk to your staff member about what went well on a project and what could have gone better, make sure that it’s a two-way conversation – not you just making pronouncements from on high. So in addition to sharing your own feedback, ask how your staff member thinks things went and what lessons she’ll take away from it. You want to reinforce that part of her role is to be thinking about this and incorporating any takeaways into her work in the future, not just executing and moving on.