Paradox Pair 37: Ownership & The Tie-Breaker

When things are working well, ubiquitous empowerment will create incredible results. When things are not quite so smooth, however, we need the guidance of our Tie-Breaker to allow us to continue our high-quality, productive work.

Paradox Pair 37: Ownership & The Tie-Breaker
Tug-Of-War, James LaPlaine

We desire that our tribe members operate with a strong sense of ownership. Operating like an owner means exhibiting behaviors that an owner of the company would display.

Some examples:

  • taking responsibility without needing explicit directions on how to do so
  • expand their roles beyond what is "expected"
  • operate in a cycle of continuous improvement
  • are passionate about our products, each other, and our clients
  • do not waste their energy on self-promotion or politics
  • minimize their pride of authorship, maximize our collaborative wins
  • demonstrate fiscal responsibility

To encourage employees to act like owners, a company must treat them like owners. Martin Zwilling suggests seven ways to incent ownership:

  1. Clearly communicate the big picture, and current reality
  2. Give every employee the necessary degrees of freedom
  3. Make them owners with stock options and actions
  4. Give advancement priority to initiative versus experience
  5. Provide employee feedback and coaching in real time
  6. Flatten the hierarchical management structure
  7. Fix mismatches and commitment problems quickly

When things are working well, ubiquitous empowerment will create incredible results. When things are not quite so smooth, however, this can lead to stalemates and deadlocks unless someone has the ability to make a decision and move the work forward. Identifying who the "tie-breaker" is in advance will help quickly clear these hurdles when inevitable snags occur.

The Tie-Breaker role should not be used to undermine the ownership behavior of others, instead it clearly identifies where the decision responsibility lies when needed. Teams should welcome the Tie-Breaker, knowing that when called upon, the Tie-Breaker will evaluate the options and make the best (sometimes tough) decision necessary to continue high-quality, productive work.

In our day-to-day work, we are alert to occasions when multiple people feel they have the ultimate authority to make a decision when there isn't large consent. This is a case where we lean on our Tie-Breaker to provide the crucial guidance on the best path for this moment.

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Additional thoughts from Zwilling on how to incent ownership can be found in this short Inc. article below.

7 Ways to Incent Employees to Feel and Act as Owners
Building accountability into your business culture is a leadership process. It can’t be driven by edict, and there is no magic potion.