Leading Change: The 4 Levels of Ownership

Four-Leaf Clover on Wooden Table, Ownership

We all know that when people feel responsible and take ownership of a change process it drastically increases the success rate. But did you know that ownership has 4 levels? Four levels that will have a different impact on the results you and your team achieve!

Successful leaders know how to stimulate a culture of ownership by paying special attention to these 4 levels. Let me share them here with you.

Level 1: Ownership of My Tasks

At this level people feel responsible for their tasks. They want to understand their tasks. They want to know exactly what they have to do, and they want to do it well.

Typical examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know how they can do their personal tasks successfully
  • Focusing on how to grow their skills and competencies
  • Asking for clear rules and instructions
  • Seeking coaching and feedback about how they perform their tasks
  • Finding motivation in becoming expert in their job
Level 2: Ownership of My Results

People feel responsible for the results of their work. They want to understand what needs to be the outcomes of their work and how they can achieve these.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know what results they need to achieve to be successful
  • Focusing on finding effective ways to create the desired outcomes
  • Asking for clear goals and targets
  • Seeking for feedback and measurement of the results they achieve
  • Finding motivation in outperforming standards and targets
Level 3: Ownership of My Work’s Impact on Other Team Members

At this level people feel responsible for having a positive impact on other people’s work. They see their work as part of a team effort. As part of a chain of activities and results, in which each team member plays an important role. They feel their work needs to add to the team’s success.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand how their role contributes to the team’s results
  • Focusing on knowing the interdependencies between team members
  • Asking for clarity about team processes and operating rules
  • Seeking feedback about how to improve collaboration and processes
  • Finding motivation in contributing to becoming a high-performance team
Level 4: Ownership of My Contribution to the Organization’s Success

Level 4 ownership means that people feel part of a journey to achieve a bigger cause, which supersedes their personal or their team’s work. They want to contribute to the broader picture, to the organization’s success, and feel responsible for this.

Some examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand in-depth the vision and strategy of the organization
  • Focusing on knowing the strategic objectives of the organization
  • Asking for clarity about the relationship between the team’s objectives and the strategic objectives
  • Seeking feedback and measurement of the team’s contribution to the company’s strategic objectives
  • Feeling co-owner of the company and its success

Mind you! These 4 levels might come across as almost obvious. But don’t interpret these four levels the wrong way!

“Each level of ownership has its merit depending on the situation in which you and your team are. Pushing the wrong level of ownership at the wrong moment can confuse people and will have a counterproductive effect.“

Let me explain:

Level 1: Especially at the beginning of a change process, when new change initiatives are initiated in the organization, you want to pay attention to this level of ownership. Probably there is uncertainty and lack of clarity about the details of what exactly needs to be done. Especially in this phase of the change process your team is looking for guidance, structure, and clear distribution of roles. Establishing ownership of tasks is important under these circumstances.

Level 2: When the change process has started, and your team starts to recognize a structure in what they are doing, then people want to get a clear view on how they are progressing. They will need to understand whether they are moving in the right direction, whether their work needs a few adjustments. This situation makes you want to shift focus from task to results, and on guiding your people to take ownership of results.

“People who do not understand and own the results of their work cannot collaborate effectively with others!”

Level 3: In each change process, not long after the start, there is an important shift that is often underestimated. It is the shift from ‘starting’ to ‘speeding up’. This is the phase in which the team needs to create rhythm and momentum, and often starts to feel outside pressure. At this moment you want to focus your team on ‘how do we collaborate, and how can we improve this’. Establishing level 3 ownership will be a vital prerequisite for successful change and it will probably take more time and energy than anticipated.

“Under pressure we tend to focus on our own job (level 1 & 2 ownership), while improving our collaboration is likely more effective (level 3 ownership).”

Level 4: When the change process is delivering results and objectives are being achieved you want to embed these in the your team’s daily reality. You want it to become the foundation on which future changes can be built. A mistake that often occurs is to pay too little attention to this phase of thoroughly embedding what is achieved. The consequence is that most of what your team learned will be lost after a while. Level 4 ownership is vital for the organization’s success and will only emerge when your team truly understands what it achieved, and is recognized for it. Take time to celebrate and to let sink in what is achieved together.


Interesting Readings and Videos:

Harvard Business Review: Francesca Gino’s take on How to Make Employees Feel Like They Own Their Work.

MIT Sloan: An interesting film ‘We the Owners’. In ‘We the Owners’, craft beer, solar, and construction companies show the benefits and challenges of ownership culture.

Nature.org: Sharing an intriguing interview with Jack Ma (Chairman and CEO of the Alibaba Group) about taking ownership of China’s environment.

SmartBrief: Julie Winkle Giulioni’s article ‘The promise of high-ownership teams’.

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Photo: Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

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