Helping Employees Develop Ownership and Accountability

A great challenge of business owners and leaders is getting employees at all levels to embrace accountability and personal ownership of workplace issues like productivity and harmony.   However, the motivation behind this desire has little to with business leaders’ selfless need for earthly goodness.  

Few business leaders invest their money or gamble their family’s fortunes on the belief that they might one day win a humanitarian medal.  No, the long and short of it is this:  BUSINESS!  It is by and large understood, that if someone feels ownership or responsibility for something, there is a significantly greater likelihood that he or she will treat it with respect, ensure its welfare, and probably even help raise its value.  

For example, most people occasionally wash and wax their personal automobiles; however, few people wash a rental car before they turn it in, or clean a hotel room before they check out. Business leaders want their employees to value their work, work space, and the goals of the organization. If they do, they’ll be more productive, more reliable, and have greater loyalty to the organization. 

Now that we have a reasonable understanding of why business owners desire accountability and ownership from employees, we can determine what might cause an employee to embrace accountability and ownership.  


First, convey the need. Working with the employee to identify a need, structure, and outcome to the desired result can lead to ownership.  

Second is the need for and understanding of discipline.  The root word of discipline is disciple.  The word is derived from Latin, and means to train or be trained.  Disciple can be used as a noun or a verbThis insight allows us to discern the proper order of worker/owner sociology.  Employees deserve discipline, and studies indicate they expect it and desire it. Clearly, engagement and productivity are equals in the realm of results-driven business. However, engagement must come before productivity

Employees are far more likely to accept personal ownership and commitment than someone whose only interaction with upper-level management is when he or she makes a mistake.  In fact, it was a presumption of Dr. Peter Drucker that employees “need, deserve … AND DESIRE” accountability and discipline. 

The French anthropologist Paul Gagnon occasionally discusses the behavioral concept of “The Feast of the Big Man.”  This is the historically proven idea that “every culture figures out a way to redistribute wealth.”  If a person accumulates too much of anything, they develop an internal need to accept “ownership and accountability,” and then reward the person(s) who helped them get it. 

It’s like people buying a gift for someone out of obligation or feeling guilty passing a homeless person without offering a helping hand. In short, historical and anthropological evidence shows that human beings are inclined to act and react in very predictable ways.  

When “given to” in abundance, the average human will “give back” freely.  Wise manager/business leaders know that engagement must set the foundation for productivity.  Supervisors at all levels must give:

  • Praise
  • Recognition
  • Training
  • Discipline
  • A familial environment 

If you do these things, you will notice your employees embracing ownership and accountability and they’ll, in turn, give back to you. Caesar knew it. Alexander knew it.  The Great Khans knew it. And now you know it!

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