We’ve talked about innovation and autonomy, which can empower staff to be creative and facilitate a culture of innovation. However, none of these elements can thrive in an organisation where people don’t have a sense of personal accountability and responsibility. This is different from the traditional structures, where accountability is handed down as a function of leadership, rather than staff taking ownership over their own projects and the associated results.
One of the most famous examples of ownership culture comes from the Ritz-Carlton, wherein employees were provided with a budget and the discretion to address any guest problems that might arise as they see fit. As a result, the Ritz-Carlton has become a legendary case study and a gold standard for customer service.
The foundation of an ownership mentality is getting employees to think like the CEO, Principal or even an owner. In certain organisations, employees are literally offered stock options, making them partial owners. This most often a good option for startups as a potential payoff for the high risk associated with working in a startup. There are other examples of employee owned organisations across a wide range of industries.
Even in organisations where there are no stockholders, such as schools, it is still possible to foster a culture of ownership. This can take on different structures including Holacracy, where teams are self-organising based on projects and expertise, or with another system of distributed leadership. The big departure from traditional hierarchical structures is that the job of leadership in ownership cultures is to focus on the big picture, allocate the appropriate resources and remove obstacles when necessary.
In such a culture, there is no space for the phrases: Not my problem or not my job. In fact, these phrases absolve people from responsibility and are the antithesis of ownership. That doesn’t mean staff have to become jacks of all trades, but rather that they will follow through on innovations and problem-solving until they are completed or resolved. In this way, ownership culture also invites high value cooperation among teammates to deliver high quality outcomes or service.
So how does this kind of culture work in schools and academies? At its core, it can only work within a structure of distributed or project-based leadership. When teachers and administrators have the autonomy to organise their own work and implement solutions based upon pupil and student experiences, they are more able to feel empowered to take personal responsibility for their decisions and for their overall performance.
Likewise the responsibility of leadership within an ownership culture is to ‘move out of the way’ and to focus on the big picture. And while there is some risk involved, cultivating an ownership mentality can become the motivation for constant improvement and creative problem solving.