Do you encourage a feeling of employee ownership in the company? Should you?
I was speaking with a group of business owners a few years ago when the discussion swerved into how much they should tell their workers about company financials. The catalyst for this discussion was a complaint by several of the owners that their employees felt they should have a voice in financial decisions.
The group was owners who had built their businesses. They had taken the risk and were on the hook for debt. If the company failed employees would lose a job but they, the owners, would lose everything. We talked about engagement versus ownership and what a feeling of ownership among the company’s staff really meant. Was it possible to have real employee engagement without a feeling of ownership?
The memory of this conversation surfaced a couple of weeks ago when I was in a group that was discussing corporate turnarounds. Often they were faced with trying to save a company in severe financial trouble – bankruptcy kind of trouble. For them the real issue is survival. To save a company often means reducing staff and even divesting part of the company. Many at all levels of leadership do not survive the reductions. What’s left is usually a smaller, leaner company, often with new leadership at all levels.
And a lot of uncertainty.
As leaders begin to rebuild the company, should they encourage a sense of ownership among their team members? Will that sense of ownership help the company recover and grow? Does that mean giving up authority? How much voice should employees have? Is business a democracy?
Obviously business is not a democracy; however, any team will be more successful when everyone on the team has a feeling of engagement in the team’s efforts.
Whether the business is successful and growing or in recovery from a downturn or more serious problem, there are few ways to approach these questions.
• Recognize that although you may be the leader and may be the one with the most to lose, you need the team to be successful. Encouraging engagement, and even a sense of ownership, does not mean an owner or senior leader is giving up authority.
• You must have open and honest communication. And therein often lies the rub. What is open and honest communication? Leaders need to be as forthcoming as possible. Especially when the business is recovering from a problem. The team members know there’s a problem. You can’t hide that. Why not tell the team what’s happening and what’s being done to address the problems. There’s no comfortable way to do that so just honestly describe the situation.
• Solicit input from your team. You never know when or from where a good idea will emerge. There is a lot of experience on your team. Don’t waste it.
• Create a motivational environment for the team. Everyone must understand what value they bring to the team. Leaders must acknowledge and appreciate the value of each member’s contribution. If the business is established and growing this is not too difficult. For a business in restructure, trying to recover from disaster, it may be harder. In either case it’s essential.
• Leaders must make it clear that they understand and appreciate what the team members are doing and the challenges they are facing.
Does all this lead to a feeling of ownership?
Perhaps, but more likely this approach leads to real engagement and a feeling of ownership of the team’s results.
That’s what you should be striving for.
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