Addressing Lack of Ownership

I cannot count the number of times that clients have contacted me because “we have a problem of ownership”. Typically a crisis with clients or suppliers triggers a compelling event which launches an OD project to enhance ownership.
Just last month, a CEO called me in because a very strategic supplier had refused a huge contract because “it takes 6 months and 200 emails to get paid, and no one seems to own paying us”.
Dealing with ownership issues effectively necessitates a very accurate diagnosis, in order to prevent the solution from turning into just another engagement plan.
In this short post, I want to share what I have found to be the root cause of “lack of ownership”.

1) ERP has been implemented brainlessly, eliminating common sense and closing all by-passes. This is by far the most common reason behind lack of ownership.
2) Irrational and non-achievable commitments have been made, and as a result, no one wants to be stuck with the dirty end of the stick, guilty of non-delivery.
3) There is an overemphasis (NOT an under-emphasis) on role clarity. Many problems need to be jointly owned (eg by Development and Customer Service) and not arbitrarily pinned on someone who is powerless.
4) Recent downsizing almost always drives a collapse of ownership. This is almost always incurable in the short term.
5) Too much data can cause a lack of ownership! For each slide and for every chart showing lack of ownership and poor responsiveness, employees learn to hide even better to make the charts look betters. (Eg, call centers which answer the phone within 2 seconds and cut off the call).

Enhancing ownership means addressing these issues at their core. It is root canal work, not a mere filling. Here are 3 tips on how to be effective in such projects.
1) Make sure that your project has a clear owner, because often the ownership of the OD project replicates the ownership problem of the organization.
2) Work from the micro to the macro. Start with delving into cases, not studying charts.
3) Get lots of input from the front line. Speak to the soldiers much more than the generals.
4) Learn the IT system and its constraints.

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8 thoughts on “Addressing Lack of Ownership

  1. In my experience, we don’t necessarily have to learn the IT system ourselves (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). When I do my assessment interviews, the front line folks/users usually tell me the shortcomings themselves.

  2. “Over emphasis on role clarity” – exactly the problem I am finding with my current client. Thanks for the pointers Allon !

  3. Oh, boy, Allon. . . We are in the middle of an OD consult now (a large-scale culture initiative) where ‘Ownership’ is named by virtually everyone we talk to as THE issue needing to get resolved.
    And your point — 1) Make sure that your project has a clear owner, because often the ownership of the OD project replicates the ownership problem of the organization. — is happening to us frequently, hampering our ability to move quickly and decisively. Every time we start to take a step in our process, a NEW group shows up acting as if they get to be in on the decision for us to proceed. Or not. It’s making us crazy!

    • Did you call me boy? :)))))
      To your point, my experience is that resolving this issue will enable many other changes… and more important…
      if this is not resolved, the project can grind to a sudden halt.

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