A sense of ownership is not necessarily owning company stock, but a feeling of ownership in the work process. As employees develop this sense of ownership there is an increased sense of pride, motivation and self-esteem. The long-term impact is increased productivity.
Generating a sense of pride can be a difficult task, however, it can be cultivated by developing a sense of ownership. Employees become much more attached to their work if they feel like a part of the process.
Participative management is a practical approach to getting employees to feel like they are part of the team that you want to build. A participative approach will ensure that employees feel like a part of the team, they develop a sense of controlling their own destiny and it pays large dividends for the management team. Some management teams have a difficult time using participative management as they feel it takes away their control. However, implemented correctly what you get is an extension of your control, new ideas and most often reduced costs.
Several issues must be resolved before a company can develop a participative management approach and sense of ownership among workers. The first, and most important, is a commitment from all management levels. Too often, managers see work processes as belonging to them and are unwilling to delegate this feeling of ownership to the lower levels of the work force. Delegating this ownership is also much easier when management has confidence in the work force.
"Meaning matters," says Dave Ulrich, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and co-founder of the consulting firm The RBL Group. His recent book The Why of Work, co-written with his wife, psychologist Wendy Ulrich, gives leaders specific tools for building meaning in the workplace from the executive suite on down.
"When employees find a sense of meaning in their work, they work harder at it," Ulrich says. "What would otherwise be a normal activity takes on much more where there is a sense of meaning associated with it. Think of a restaurant, movie, song or place that you shared with a loved one. The emotional appeal surrounding the activity gives it an increased sense of meaning."
When it comes to making work matter, smaller companies have some advantages over their larger competitors. They're more likely to be led by the person who started the company and has a personal stake in its success. Such leaders can influence their co-workers more immediately and effectively than middle managers at multinational corporations, who are many layers removed from the upper-level decision-makers.
"Share with your employees a sense of ownership and participation," Ulrich says. "Model for them what delights you about your company and what gives you passion."
The Ulrichs identified specific factors that create meaning for workers throughout an organization. One underlying theme is that job descriptions should be flexible enough to adapt to specific employees' strengths. A back-office worker with great people skills and a knack for problem-solving could be shifted to customer service. The in-house tech expert who uses Twitter in her spare time could be tapped to oversee the company's Facebook page or start a blog on its website.
Keeping duties flexible not only makes employees happier about coming to work, it gives them fresh challenges, which is another key to making a job meaningful. It also sends the message that each worker is appreciated as an individual, each bringing something different and useful to the team.
As a leader, you can only instill a sense of purpose in others if you feel it yourself. That means you must do some soul searching. What is your vision for the business? Why does it exist? How can your workers help shape that purpose and apply it to their daily tasks?
As an example, Ulrich cites Eco Scraps, a Utah-based startup that turns leftover food waste into organic...