One of the most common challenges that businesses face is a lack of ownership and ‘buy-in’ from the team. This becomes apparent when team members don't take the initiative, do the bare minimum required by bosses or clients, and drag their feet when new ideas are being implemented.

While it’s easy to point and blame, it’s worth looking internally, and seeing if there is something that the management may or may not be doing that is driving and contributing to this culture. Based on experience, here are 4 of the top reasons why we’d see this behaviour in otherwise competent, intelligent, hard-working team members.

First: No buy-in to the company vision

This is the first, because it’s among the most common and most apparent. The lack of ownership is often linked to a lack of buy-in to company goals. When the overarching vision of a company is centered around being the industry leader or achieving a specific revenue target, employees who are not owners may struggle to find personal motivation to actively contribute towards those goals. Without a sense of ownership or direct stake in the company's success…why would they care?

As a result, they may fail to fully comprehend the significance of their individual contributions and the impact they can have on achieving those objectives, their commitment and dedication to the company's goals may waver.

Imagine a software development company with a vision to become “The leading provider of innovative solutions" in its industry. The CEO sets an ambitious goal of reaching $10 million in revenue within the next fiscal year. However, one of the senior developers, Alex, who is not a shareholder in the company, fails to see the personal relevance of this objective. On the contrary, to Alex, the goal of hitting $10 million may be more demotivating, since he doesn’t see any of it. Consequently, Alex's motivation and commitment to their work begin to wane, resulting in missed deadlines, decreased productivity, and ultimately, a lack of accountability towards the company's revenue goal.

Action Ideas:

1- Foster a sense of purpose and alignment:

Set the vision based on impact, outcomes, and contribution to the world. Honestly speaking, no one really cares about your company vision, if all it does is talk about how great the company is going to be.

2- Clearly communicate the company's vision, mission, and goals to all employees.

Emphasize how their individual contributions directly impact the achievement of those goals. Help employees understand the larger purpose behind the company's objectives and how their work fits into the bigger picture. This can be done through regular communication, town hall meetings, or team-building exercises that highlight the importance of their roles.

3. Promote transparency and involvement:

Encourage open dialogue and feedback channels within the organization. Provide opportunities for employees to contribute their ideas, suggestions, and concerns related to the company's goals. When employees feel heard and involved in decision-making processes, they are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and accountability. Additionally, transparent communication about the company's progress towards its goals can help employees see the collective impact of their efforts and reinforce their commitment.

Second: No ongoing visibility, and inefficiencies are hidden

A lack of ongoing visibility and the absence of tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) publicly can contribute MASSIVELY to underperformance. When poor performance, inefficiencies, and shortcomings remain hidden due to a lack of transparency, employees may not feel the pressure to address them, or take ownership of improving their performance. This lack of public accountability can hinder productivity and the company's ability to achieve its goals efficiently.

An industrial business client had an issue with poor cashflow, and this - as it turned out - was the result of poor follow up on receivables (to the tune of millions every year!). Since there were no KPIs, there was no public sharing of information, no public accountability, no promises to fix that were followed.

In the first week of setting up and sharing the KPIs, the finance team suddenly had nowhere to hide anymore. Every manager knew the cause, impact, and person behind the (very avoidable!) problem. Within the first month, things changed drastically, and the cashflow problem disappeared, literally overnight.

Action ideas:

1- Track your KPIs!!

Establish a system for tracking KPIs and regularly measuring progress. This can involve setting clear performance metrics, establishing regular reporting mechanisms, and leveraging appropriate technology or tools to gather and analyze data.

2- Foster a culture of transparency and feedback:

KPIs are meant to help, not punish. Encourage open communication and create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their progress, challenges, and ideas openly. Implement regular check-ins, performance reviews, or team meetings where employees can discuss their achievements, roadblocks, and receive constructive feedback.

THIRD: No reason to step up

A lack of accountability among employees can - and does! - arise when there is no incentive or reason to step up and go beyond the minimum requirements. If underperformance is treated the same as meeting or exceeding targets, why would anyone put in extra effort or strive for exceptional results?

Without a clear distinction or recognition for those who excel, there is little motivation for individuals to push themselves or take on additional responsibilities. This lack of differentiation between performance levels can create a sense of complacency, leading to a diminished drive to try harder and ultimately hindering overall productivity and growth within the organization.

Consider a customer service team where there is no differentiation between underperformance and exceeding expectations. In this scenario, all customer service representatives are treated equally, regardless of their individual performance. For instance, Sarah consistently goes above and beyond to provide exceptional customer support, resolving complex issues and receiving positive feedback from clients. On the other hand, Hanna consistently falls short, displaying minimal effort and frequently receiving customer complaints. However, both Sarah and Hanna are treated the same, with no recognition or consequences for their respective performances.

As a result, Sarah would be very justified in asking why she should continue putting in extra effort if there is no acknowledgment or reward for her exceptional performance. This lack of accountability and recognition stifles motivation, leading to a decreased willingness to go the extra mile, and ultimately impacting the overall quality of customer service provided by the team.

Action items:

1- Check your bias.

Is there someone in the team who is being treated differently to others, or are different people help to different standards? As a suggestion: it’s really hard to be objective when doing this on yourself, so get the input from all the relevant stakeholders. If and when you do see bias, be proactive in removing it. This may have to do with race/culture/gender/etc…it has no place in your company.

2- Implement a performance-based reward system:

Establish a reward system that recognises and rewards high performers. This can include bonuses, incentives, or promotions based on individual or team achievements. By linking rewards to exceptional performance, employees are motivated to strive for excellence and take ownership of their work. Recognizing and appreciating those who consistently exceed expectations sends a clear message that going above and beyond is valued and encouraged.

FORTH: No culture of trust (AKA: Micromanagement)

Nothing kills motivation faster than mistrust and micromanagement. When employees are constantly subjected to excessive scrutiny, their autonomy and decision-making authority are undermined. The lack of opportunity, space, and trust to carry out their responsibilities can quickly erode their motivation. Without a sense of ownership or empowerment in their roles, employees may become disengaged, resulting in diminished accountability for their work. This toxic culture stifles initiative and innovation, hampering the overall productivity and success of the organization.

A client had a well-resourced sales team, reporting to a toxic sales manager. There was an unmissable culture of micromanagement and mistrust. The sales manager scrutinised every action of the team, constantly checking on their progress, involving himself in their interactions with clients, and providing unsolicited detailed instructions on how to handle every sales opportunity. The team members were not given the opportunity to exercise their own judgment, or use their expertise to adapt their approaches to different situations.

Unsurprisingly, the team constantly underperformed, the better team members left, and the ones who stayed were moving on the outside, but dead on the inside. One of the first actions we took when starting to work with this business was to remove the toxicity, and within the first 60 days, sales people who had never hit more than 50% of their target were already on track, earning bonuses and commissions, and coming to work happier.

Action items:

1- Enable, empower and trust:

Encourage managers to empower their team members by delegating authority and providing them with autonomy in their roles. Promote open and transparent communication, where team members feel comfortable discussing their ideas, mistakes, and suggestions without fear. Build trust by recognizing and celebrating individual and team achievements, allowing employees to take ownership of their work, and providing constructive feedback rather than constant monitoring.

2. Develop leadership and communication skills:

Invest in leadership coaching that focuses on developing the skills of managers and supervisors. Provide them with the necessary tools to effectively communicate, delegate, and trust their team members. Encourage managers to foster an environment that values collaboration, open dialogue, and employee development. By improving leadership skills and creating a supportive work environment, the culture of micromanagement can be replaced with a culture of accountability and trust.

Ownership and accountability can not be imposed or forced on anyone. The more willing someone is to take on the responsibility, the better they will do.

About the author

Murtaza Manji
Business Strategy & Leadership Coach
Entrepreneur, award-winning business strategy coach, and international speaker, Murtaza Manji is the co-founder of Kaizen Consulting Group which he set up in the UK in 2011 before expanding to the UAE a year later. Since then, the company has evolved significantly with ambitious plans to expand further. His vision is to positively impact the countries the Group operates in by supporting clients to create lasting values and legacies.

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Murtaza Manji - Managing Partner of Kaizen Business Consulting Group Dubai
Kaizen’s team of experts have worked with 1050+ companies across 16 different industries worldwide to achieve higher profits, greater productivity, and sustainable growth by creating efficient systems and structure. Get in touch today to see how we can support you.