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Taking Ownership as an Employee

All employees, regardless of their designation in an organisation, are required to take ownership of their business, their department, or at the very least their crucial responsibilities at work. The fundamental premise of their work allocation in the business being accountability, taking ownership becomes an expectation.

Unfortunately, ownership is often misunderstood... by both the person taking it and the person expecting it to be taken.

We often come across employees who take “ownership” so literally that they become either overzealous individuals taking biased decisions or self serving individuals misusing their promoters’ resources. Either way, when objectivity or resource focus is compromised, it is obviously detrimental to the business.

Early in my career, my need to bond with my team overrode my objectivity in serving the organisation. My erstwhile employer, who ran a confectionery chain amongst other businesses, patiently advised me to “Be attached and yet detached”. I didn’t quite understand what he meant then. Many years later, when I went on to take one of the toughest people related decisions in my work life... firing a colleague, I understood.

As it happened, after identifying and understanding the problem, I first finished the necessary fire-fighting. Then I mentored my colleague and even did some of his work... over a period of time. At one point however, I realised that if I didn’t fire him, I would be doing a disservice to my employer. It was terrible for me personally when I took that call, but I knew then just how far a professional had to go to do the right thing regardless of the unpopularity of such a decision. My need to connect with people is still as strong as always even today. Only, I have developed another mechanism within myself which reminds me of the role I have agreed to play for an organisation and what it entails.

In India, nepotism is common both in political and corporate circles, particularly at the senior most levels. While I am all for the referral route, I believe that basic potential of a candidate to fulfil a particular role must first be established conclusively. If however, a referred resource is selected based on personally liking a candidate or favouring someone you know, the quality of the decision is bound to be compromised.

As we all know, the quality of many small decisions we make for a business, lead to its eventual outcome. Why then are we surprised, when a candidate selected in this manner delivers poor results? Shouldn’t we instead take to task the person making such irresponsible decisions?

Judicious corporate governance at any level calls for exercising ones control with a balanced mind. A prudent approach is to start with an attitude of serving ones shareholders and ones clients through collaboration with your fellow employees... regardless of their hierarchical stature.

Creating the best value that you can for these people groups around you without losing perspective is the mark of a true professional. For this you must understand the needs and wants of a business, its promoters, its clients and associates. Then you must recognise the role you play in the business and how you can influence its outcome positively.

Such learnings and understanding go on over a lifetime and can never really be considered complete. Such an approach assists a professional in pointing true north in terms of his business direction. An executive thinking this way will realign his thought in sync with that of his promoter. Any initiatives that stem from such thought will certainly be more holistic, focused, objective and thus more productive.

We often come across a vacancy which calls for a candidate with “entrepreneurial” skill. What does this mean for the employer and candidate? The employer asking for this skill must have the ability to control and utilize such a resource without quelling his spirit. The candidate must recognise that even if he is an executive director or CEO, he is only the custodian of the real owner’s resources and must thus accept the extent of his jurisdiction and decision making level. (Real owner is in reference to the one who has risked the money... though in some instances a Director/CEO may be both an owner/investor and employee).

In a situation where the entrepreneurial employee’s decision is overridden by the employer’s, he must learn to embrace the employer’s (owner of the resources) decision whole-heartedly. An employee not accepting this is being unfair to his employer as he is effectively preordaining the decisions outcome towards failure.

Further, an orientation towards being resource focused and developing an ability to sniff out business opportunities much like an entrepreneur himself, is immensely useful. This is because it will predispose a professional to greater alignment with his promoters’ perspective and thus self growth.

Professionals keen to improve their ability to “own” their employer’s business or department can augment and even accelerate their hands-on business learning through classroom training. Unfortunately, most management in India, particularly at the top level have two key notions about classroom learning:

  1. It is theoretical, not practical in the real world and
  2. It is for others, not for them

Ironically, the world over, top management executives develop themselves professionally through focused workshops, seminars and other forms of classroom learning. Are they all doing this only for a certification or are they all just theorists?

The truth is that every manager “theorizes” about their experiences. In fact, theory is simply a structured presentation of “cause and effect” culled from practical experiences and observations. Through ongoing practice, learnings evolve or change as does the attached theory.

Many management institutes these days include case studies in their management development programs simply because they support through example, how a particular theory was concluded. A cluster of best practices captured over years of study across many businesses, is usually what this “theory” comprises of. Thus during the brief course of a program even the senior most professional, who cannot practically amass such knowledge in one lifetime, can benefit. Why else would global top management executives avail of such learning and see value in it?

Being embarrassed about asking for help or taking such a program themselves is one of the greatest self imposed barriers of professional growth I have observed in our industry. What better than identifying a skill to develop in yourself, and choosing a suitable program and learning centre that will help you achieve your end? The discipline to self monitor with a view to institute progressive change in yourself in a focused manner dovetails well with openness of mind in this arena.

At a basic level “taking ownership” simply involves developing and exercising entrepreneurial attitude and abilities within the boundaries of employment.

 


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