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It has always been a Great Hypothesis. It goes like this: ‘if employees acted as owners, as if they owned the company, most hurdles would be dealt with and most performance issues would be solved’. No wonder this is a desired scenario for most leaders. There is just one ‘small local difficulty’, as a Brit would put it, that is, most employees do not own the company. Of course there are the exceptions: a widely spread stock ownership, for example, or the John Lewis Partnership (UK) model. But even in situations where employees own (a bit or a lot) of the company, there is no guarantee that they will behave as owners, or that there is, indeed, a culture of ownership.

What are the Lego pieces that make up a culture of ownership? What would I see in front of me in such a culture? What kind of smart statements could I expect to hear from ‘the owners’ (more or less paraphrased)?

  1. I account personally. Personal accountability would be high. This is the ‘beyond my role’ accountability, the ‘jumping in’ and helping without being asked, the making things happen, as the old definition of culture would say, ‘when nobody is watching’.
  2. I take the empowerment. Empowerment would be a given (ah! that word!) but the empowered people would actually want to be empowered and take on the empowerment. Empowerment may be a given, but wanting to be empowered is not.
  3. We all own all resources. Resources would be something to take care of wisely. This does not mean ridiculously ‘cutting back to the bone’ and expecting miracles, but rather that people would be very mindful not just of money, but also of time, commitments, and other people’s constrains. Resources would be approached from the perspective of the collective, not just ‘the ones I manage’.
  4. I see my impact. Performance and delivery would be a key focus. Naturally, this would be similar to any well-managed company. But the ownership culture looks at the connection between contribution and impact with laser precision. Within this, time (concept of) would be precious, but there would be no compromise on key values (safety for example) in order to deliver at any cost.
  5. I am a 24/7 ambassador. External perception and reputation would matter well above the norm. If I ‘own the company’ (my work, my impact, my results, our results) I would do things in a way that the visible outcome boosts my brand at all times. Not just ‘the commercial brand’ but ‘our space in the world’ brand…
  6. I share an agenda with the customer. My customer-centrism would be qualified. The customer is not always right; I am not always right; we walk together, we keep our promises. My customer-centrism is one of a ‘shared agenda’, it is neither blindly servile, nor managed lip service.
  7. The process is a servant, not the king. The ‘way of doing things’ would matter at least as much as ‘the things we are doing’. Because of the mindfulness about resources (time, money, interconnectedness of commitments), processes and systems would be fit for purpose. Bureaucracy, recycling of information and waste would have little room. They would be quite alien to the culture (It’s easier to waste when I don’t own the resources).

These seven attributes of a culture of ownership require two drivers for the whole to work as a package:

  1. A great dose of critical thinking across the board; the ability to avoid automatic pilot thinking and decisions, and the focus to look at issues and opportunities analytically and systematically. The differences between ‘owing the culture’ and not, are the same as those between challenging default positions, looking for better and different ways to achieve success, and carrying on doing things in the same way as they have always been done. Critical thinking can be taught, by the way.
  2. A set of non-negotiable behaviours needs to be established (and spread) as the oil of the organization. This is a set of ‘logic and algorithms’ of the type: ‘in cases of X, we will always do Y and we will never get into Z’. For example. The core behavioural DNA would have been crafted, with mechanisms in place to spread and protect this DNA. This is what the Viral Change Organizational Platform does; we embed Viral Change™ into the company, Viral Change™ becoming the Organization’s Operating System.

And the whole plan looks pretty attractive to me. As a client asked me when I showed her this, ‘how can we have one of these, please?’


Other Daily Thoughts cousins of this:
‘Powered by Viral Change TM‘: a Social Transformation Platform for the organization of the 21st Century
The Organizational Logic: the basic people algorithms that steer the navigation. Reframing the company steering system in 2015. (2 of 5)


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