Poor execution will tank a solid strategy every time. Executive and leadership teams spend countless hours crafting strategic plans but often short-change the time needed to ensure successful execution. McKinsey research has found that fewer than 30% of strategic transformations succeed. At the heart of the breakdown is poor communication, a lack of a compelling change story, and people who don’t feel seen and heard. Bottom line: They aren’t “bought in.”
Being “bought in” doesn’t just happen because an initiative is launched. In fact, buy-in is a mindset that shapes with small steps taken consistently and reinforced over time. In a recent Harvard Business Review article showcasing the successful strategic digital transformation of an Austrian waste management company, authors attributed that success to several elements, one of which was companies’ having the “right talent and mindset.” In particular, they referred to “a transformational leadership style — focused on empowering and motivating employees to become self-starters and take ownership of their role,” as an increasingly important factor in responding to change.
The reality is that career paths, resource libraries and asynchronous training aren’t enough to equip employees to foster personal accountability and ownership of their roles. There’s a mindset shift that needs to occur before those tools can be valuable.
The Push-pull Dilemma
Typically, organizations push a tremendous amount of resources to employees with the expectation that they will pull from that content what they find most interesting for their careers. The problem for many organizations using this approach is that engagement remains down, discretionary effort is nonexistent and employees are still expecting employers to tell them how to reach the next step in their careers.
This approach won’t create self-starters. Instead, organizations require a shift in mindset, where employees are motivated to “pull in” what they need and “push up” creative ideas, concerns that may hinder the change effort and new approaches to solving problems.
Fostering a Mindset for Personal Ownership
A leader’s job is to foster self-generated insight, not to provide all the answers. This approach takes intentional effort and planning. Here are five steps to shift employee mindsets, build confidence, and empower ownership of their current role and beyond.
1. This Journey Is Yours to Walk
There is no blueprint of how to reach the next level. Each of us have had doors opened by others. The journey to owning one’s role and the path that unfolds along that journey comes with its own set of challenges. It’s impossible to replicate someone else’s experiences.
2. Let Employees Know a Job Description Is Just a Guideline
Tell employees that just because they don’t check every box on a job description doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified. This education is even more important for women, who, studies have found, are more likely than men not to apply for a job if they don’t meet all of the qualifications listed. Create a culture that motivates people to be vulnerable and stretch out of their comfort zone. People won’t be ready for their dream role if they haven’t had the opportunity to interview and receive feedback along the way.
3. You Achieve What You Measure
Set expectations. Better yet, require employees to track the impact they make in their role on a weekly basis. Have them record their wins, losses and lessons learned from each. When you foster accountability in this fashion, employees will be more likely to take ownership of their role while building their confidence along the way.
4. Redefine Failure
View failure as a catalyst for growth. The mistakes we make and learn from shape the leaders we become later in our careers. Setting boundaries on decision-making and problem-solving is a good starting place toward creating a culture of failing safely.
5. Harness the Power of Detailed Positive Feedback
Train managers to deliver detailed positive feedback (aka praise) so employees know what they should do more of and are confident in the skills they are developing. Skillfully delivering positive feedback motivates employees to be self-starters and own their roles, because they know what to do to achieve results.
By focusing on building their skills and shifting their mindset, employees will realize they’ve been given the tools they need to manage the change ahead. The rest is up to them.