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Stop your whining and take ownership!

Are you a victim of circumstance or do you take ownership when something goes wrong?

The most frequent complaint I hear from organisations is that staff don’t take ownership, accountability or responsibility. But what does this actually mean? Let’s take a simple example. If we’re late for a meeting, we will often trot out an excuse, like “the traffic was awful” or “my last meeting overran”.

This is an everyday example of not taking responsibility for our actions and blaming external interference. It’s as if we have no control over our destiny – we are just victims of circumstance. Co-author of The Oz Principle, Tom Smith labels this ‘being below the line’- blaming others or circumstances, making excuses, or denying any short-comings.

So what would an ‘above the line’ response be? Simple, “I didn’t leave early enough!”

Taking another example, imagine you are managing a project and a supplier lets you down which results in the overall project being delayed, and you have an unhappy boss to face. A below the line response would be “the supplier let me down” [Blame].

Being above the line requires a ‘buck stops with me’ mentality (taking ownership, accountability and responsibility). This requires us to examine what we could do in future to avoid a similar incident, for example: Could we have used a better method of selecting a supplier? Did we have a robust contingency plan? How about better communications with the supplier to flag up any issues earlier?

As leaders, we create more of a learning organisation with an ‘above the line’ mentality. To encourage such behaviours requires us to lay off the blame game when mistakes are made, and allow staff to come to their own conclusions about what they can do better next time. Perhaps the real definition of that over-used word ‘empowerment’ is promoting a culture of ownership, accountability and responsibility – above the line behaviours.

As leaders, we create more of a learning organisation with an 'above the line' mentality.

Circumstances count for 10% … how you deal with them counts for 90%

So where do we start? Simple: lead by example! Next time you are late for a meeting, how about saying “sorry, I didn’t leave early enough” rather than “sorry, awful traffic”? Unnerving, perhaps, but what message would this send to your staff about taking responsibility for their actions rather than making trite excuses or blaming others?

There is an extraordinary young lady called Jessica Cox, who, although she was born with no arms, has a black belt in two martial arts and a private pilot’s licence! Jessica says: “Circumstances count for 10% … how you deal with them counts for 90%”.

This certainly stops me in my tracks when I am tempted to blame circumstances for something I didn’t achieve.

Imagine you run a sales team and you haven’t hit your targets, what are some typical excuses?

My manager sets unrealistic targets…

The economy is terrible…

My salespeople don’t have the right experience…

People don’t use the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system properly…

Excuses are natural but unhelpful behaviours. Excuses don’t move us forward. They can be thought of as ‘victim’ or ‘below the line’ thinking. The good news is that for each of these excuses there is an alternative above the line response, one where we take ownership, accountability and responsibility for our results:

My manager sets unrealistic targets becomes – I don’t negotiate effectively with my manager over targets

The economy is terrible – the economy is the same for everyone – I am failing to differentiate my product

My salespeople don’t have the right experience becomes – I don’t train my staff adequately, or I recruit poorly

People don’t use the CRM system properly becomes – I haven’t created proper CRM processes that people adhere to

So next time you’re tempted to complain about something, think of Jessica – what would she say?