By Rushka Mahadeo, Human Resources Director @ Pioneer Foods.
Many company’s proudly list Ownership as a company value or behaviour. On boarding processes within these organizations may often include orientation to the meaning of taking ownership and behaviours aligned to this value. In the case of newly appointed management and executive team members (newbies) it is not unusual for their senior manager/executive team member to provide them opportunities to participate in projects or interventions that allow the newbie to practice and demonstrate this value of Ownership.
Sounds great, especially if empowered with the tools, resources and team members to deliver on the objectives set. Why then do so many newbies fail when given what may appear to be a rock solid opportunity to demonstrate their leadership skills of taking ownership and making decision related to the tasks at hand? Why do so many find themselves falling short of the expectations of senior management or matrix management team members…I mean it’s all written down right, there’s policies, procedures, SOP’s!
Wrong! You see a big part of empowering a newbie into acting as an owner and taking ownership is the quality of mentoring and leadership by example that they may be exposed to or receive as part of the exercise. The underlying nuances that often creep up in such scenarios like undocumented or informal protocols, specific to that instance or management team. The attitude of the senior manager from the outset washing their hands off the outcomes and consequences of what may transpire or results of decisions taken. Even worse still the approach from senior management often expressed as “You need to own the situation and take decisions” on one hand while qualifying it by the unspoken protocol of “run your final selection/options by me before taking your final decision”.
True mentorship is not about throwing someone into the deep end to see if they can sink or swim and throwing them a lifeline when the waters already hit their lungs! Too often the mentor’s ego gets in the way resulting in the withholding of key information in the form of unspoken or undocumented protocols and expectations from their newbie. This unfortunately can result in a complete break of trust between the newbie and their senior and destroy more than just the mentoring relationship impacting on the career path and contributions of even the most talented and experienced of newbies.
Allowing a person to take ownership is more than just giving them the tools and resources to effectively run with the tasks at hand. As a senior manager or mentor it’s taking responsibility and courage to share the unspoken and undocumented protocols and expectations that may exist. Having the attitude of “I had to cut my teeth the hard way so why should it be easy for him/her” does very little to nurture trust or a relationship of mutual sharing and learning. Giving ownership therefore comes with the responsibility of being transparent, honest and supportive in empowering others to demonstrate this popular cultural driver successfully.