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Andy Neal

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Developing a sense of ownership and responsibility among staff


Efficiency is about taking ownership and responsibility for behaviours as much as it is about designing new business processes, says Andy Neal of Changemaker International.

It is important that businesses are run efficiently, even more now when companies are facing greater challenges from the economy. Yet at times such as this, businesses cannot afford to have inefficient employees – those that are not taking ownership or full responsibility for themselves and their actions in fulfilling their roles.

Surveys show that the greatest source of frustration and de-motivation in a team is when some individuals do not put in the same effort or create the same results as others, and nothing is done about it. The frustration and anger this creates can be corrosive in terms of relationships with management and colleagues, in addition to undermining efficiency.

Stephen Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, used a simple model to explain some elements of human behaviour. The model contained two circles, one inside the other. The outer circle, the Circle of Concern, contains the things that concern us, yet we have no influence or control over them; for example the economy, the weather or the price of oil. The inner circle, the Circle of Influence, contains the things we have influence over, such as our relationships with others, or the processes that we operate at work.

Covey noted that those who focused and expended energy on the things they had no influence became, over time, less influential as their circle of concern grew and swallowed up their circle of influence. Conversely, those who worked on their circle of influence became more influential.

In times of change people experience different emotions, which employers will need to understand. By simply taking the time to ask how your employees are feeling will lead you to understand the cycle of emotions taking place, especially if they are toxic or disempowering emotions such as anger or fear.

By asking your teams to focus on their circle of control you can ensure they are making the most of their experiences. When employees feel they are being heard and that they understand the situation fully, they are in control of their destiny. This feeling of control will also have a positive effect on team spirit, which of course is reflected in quality of work.

If you agree an action plan for change and introduce simple incentives to help this, you will help your employees move round the curve and towards a more efficient future. Everything in life is a learning curve, and changes within a business must always be seen as a positive thing – the experiences will ultimately only help produce a more valuable employee.

And now, on a lighter note, some cautionary tales of where management can occasionally get it wrong:

The sickie
I was once accused by HR of failing in my managerial duties because my team had the highest absenteeism record in the whole business, working only 11 months per year on average. Predictably, my team were disinterested when confronted with this fact, so I turned it around on them, explaining that I was happy for my team to only work for 11 months of the year, if they were happy that I would only pay them for 11 months. Now I had their interest – and they were not happy. 

After explaining that the company was fulfilling its contract with its employees (paying them the agreed salary on time, providing a safe workplace, encouraging them to grow and develop and standing up for them if they were unfairly treated) my team came to the realisation that had been failing on their side (to turn up on time, dressed appropriately to do their work), prompting agreement that a change was needed. I put a small incentive plan in place and three months later my team had the lowest absenteeism record in the company.

Are you explicit with your employees about the terms of the contract both sides are supposed to fulfil? It might seem obvious to you but many people, even those who have been at work for many years, have never been given a clear picture of exactly what is expected of them, and unless they have, don’t expect them to take responsibility for their side of the bargain.

The company car
As a senior manager I led a team of department heads, whose responsibility it was to determine the annual staff bonuses. I was amused, therefore, on bonus day when I overheard two employees blaming me for the size of their bonus, when it was their manager, Peter, who had set the amount of their bonus.

When discussing this with Peter, I asked why he had a company car – his answer was ‘because I am a manager’. I then pointed out that being a manager meant you take responsibility for your decisions and could not separate yourself from unpopular decisions, and his company car was a part of the reward for taking that responsibility. I suggested he speak with his team to fully explain the bonus process and take ownership of his actions, or he would lose his car. He did this – I suspect he was not happy with me that day, but he became a much more communicative manager after that.

Do you allow people to avoid their responsibilities but continue to reward them as if they were acting appropriately?

Andy Neal, ChangeMaker International

One Response

  1. Talking to people face to face helps

    It is amazing what can be done by simply talking to people.



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