As business owners and leaders, we have to remember our teams didn’t sign-up for what we did. We want our team members to take ownership and to have an ownership mentality and although this is a worthwhile objective it is often an unrealistic expectation.
Our team members joined our companies to ply their craft, to be valued for it, and to be part of something bigger than themselves. For most team members this is where it ends and that should be enough. Expecting team members to think about and approach the business as owners isn’t the implied or tacit agreement between a company and its team members. Team members don’t sign-up to think about the business 24/7. They don’t want to have to worry about making payroll, space leases, lines of credit terms, managing cash flow, etc. A company’s team members simply want to ply their craft and go enjoy the rest of their lives.
The owner’s responsibilities are that of the owner and not team members because the owners made a conscious decision to be owners and to take on those responsibilities while the team members didn’t. It is unfair for owners to expect that team members are somehow going to want to continue as team members, but with ownership expectations.
Team members should expect to have ownership of their work and contribution to the company. I’m not saying that a lack of overall company ownership mentality means team members don’t own their direct contribution, they do. But owners often take it too far and expect their team members to not only own their individual work and contribution but somehow also have a companywide ownership mentality.
I think owners develop this perspective and need for the team to have ownership and to act like owners of the company in part because being an owner can be lonely and isolating. Owning and operating a successful and growing company is a massive and ongoing challenge. Owners want to think they can do it on their own, but over time they realize they can’t and they want others (i.e. the team) to dig in with them. The rub is that the team didn’t sign-up for being an owner and although owners may want and expect the team to step up to think and act like owners most of the team won’t because it isn’t their responsibility.
The team expects the company’s owners to handle the ownership responsibilities of running the company effectively because that is the underlying agreement between a company and its team members. Business owners who have bought into the narrative and belief that team members should conduct themselves as owners are misguided and sorely disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
Owners own and deal with all of the ramifications of running and owning their business. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And face it, it gets ugly sometimes and as owners we want the team to be aware of it. It is okay to share some aspects of company ownership and the challenges associated to it with the team, but don’t do it expecting the team to want to wallow in it with you. The team has jobs to do and you should let them do their jobs while you do yours.
-Ryan Frederick, Principal at AWH
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