The Four Levels of Ownership and Accountability
I frequently talk to my employees about ownership and accountability. In a typical busy office environment, we are constantly getting interrupted and distracted. It seems we get so busy that we forget the conversations we have in the hall between points A and B. We make promises, vow to follow up, and tell fellow employees “I’ll take care of it” as we are running to a meeting. So when I meet with my team and discuss the importance of accountability, I explain to them the four levels of ownership:
An example scenario:
Level 1: Make a Commitment and Communicate the Commitment: Robert tells Marie he will have the report done by Friday. Two days later, on Wednesday, Robert stops by Marie’s office to affirm that he will have the report done by Friday.
Level 2: Make a Commitment but Communicate a Change to The Commitment: Robert tells Marie that he will have report done by Friday. On Wednesday, Robert stops by Marie’s office to tell her something came up and he will need until Monday.
Level 3: Make a Commitment but Don’t Communicate a Change in Commitment: Robert tells Marie that he will have report done by Friday. However, Robert does not stop by Marie’s office to tell her something came up and he will need more time. Marie is surprised to find out on Friday the report is not done.
Level 4: Don’t make a Commitment and Don’t Communicate a Change to The Commitment: Robert does not tell Marie when he will have report done. As things come up, Robert does not make Marie aware and the report seems to take far longer than it should have.
In my opinion, Level 1 is ideal. The employee makes a commitment and follows through; even confirming ahead of time they’ll meet their promise. This level of ownership not only fulfills the promise to the other party, but it also keeps the other party informed.
With Level 2, the employee makes a commitment, but then communicates that there will be a change. Level 2, in my opinion, is also acceptable. In reality, things happen and the business environment is a constantly changing set of surroundings and priorities. At least the employee communicates what’s happening.
Level 3 is the worst. Level 3 employee ownership describes a situation when an employee makes a commitment, but fails to communicate a change to that commitment when issues emerge. The reason this is the worst type of ownership is because when an employee makes a commitment or promise to do something, the other party expects something to happen at a certain time or place. As a manager, one of the most frustrating things for me to hear from a colleague is that one of my employees said he or she was to do something by last Friday, and has not communicated anything – positive or negative. I then find myself spending time speaking with the employee to get a status and provide an update to the other party.
Level 4 ownership can lead to some debate. In Level 4, an employee does not make a commitment and does not have any follow up with the peer. In this example the employee may say something like “Yeah that’s interesting, maybe I’ll look into it.” In theory, there was no promise, therefore no obligation. However, Level 4 ownership is not acceptable to me. In business, our job as colleagues and employees is to work with one another, and help each other out to make the firm successful. So while there is nothing wrong with Level 4, I tell my employees that when another person seeks their support and expertise, professional etiquette should lead one to offer a few minutes of time to help.
What types of ownership problems have you seen?