Jim's Blog

Is Ownership a Trainable Behavior?

October 2016

Based on my September post, I got a very interesting follow-on question:

"In our organizational experience, poor performers have often failed to own their errors or blamed mistakes on external factors. They've made comments like, 'The files I got were too hard and that is why I made the mistake.' So, is ownership a behavior you can train or should you just hire for it?"

Here are the two thoughts I shared with the sender:

Thought #1: I’m not sure it’s an either/or situation

Establishing hiring criteria for willing ownership is a good place to start. And in cases, where there’s external attribution and no feeling of control, a development program may help. If that doesn’t work, then you can either find something else for the person to do or nudge them elsewhere if they’re disruptive.

In my (very short) book, Giving Away Power (available via Amazon), I talk about practical approaches to getting the right mix of perceptions and locus of control as they relate to creating healthy organizations.

Two examples I use are along the lines of your scenario:

1)   If people perceive that failure is caused by a personal deficiency they can’t control, they may chalk it up to their own "stupidity.” My view is that’s unhealthy since it’s typically associated with depression.

2)   A related example is when people perceive failure is due to an external factor they can't control (“The files were too hard and there’s nothing I could do about it”). That’s also unhealthy since they’ll likely blame it on bias or prejudice.

On the other hand, if people attribute failure to an external source but still feel they could have personally affected the situation, they may simply exhibit frustration, and you can work with that.

The next question involves their need to succeed. The key consideration is the cost of getting them to support the organization’s goals.

Where you may be able to manage a failure avoider (e.g., a procrastinator) with short term goals and frequent oversight, failure acceptors – those indifferent to achievement due to a lack of concern or active anger and resistance to the organization’s achievement values – are a more complex challenge and may need to find another place to work.

Thought #2: Maybe they’re right

It could be that the files were indeed “too hard” for the employees to process/use.

That’s where Organizational Performance System (OPS) can help.

Via our cloud-based OPS, we’ve simplified many critical enterprise business processes – including rapid business issue analysis, intuitive project management, fair performance management, and measurement and monitoring. It’s a tremendous system with a great track record of success.

We also have 15 modules that make managing healthcare organizations easier and more accountable. They’re perfect for any setting – acute care, LTACHs, rehab, and skilled nursing systems.


About Jim Hill

Jim is the founder and CEO of Organizational Performance Systems.

Previously, Jim was a Marine Corps officer and an executive with Sun Microsystems. He is a past president of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).

He holds degrees from The Ohio State University, Webster University, and Averett College, and he received his doctorate in human and organizational performance from the University of Southern California.

His book, Giving Away Power, was published in 2013.

He is the 2016 recipient of ISPI’s Distinguished Service Award.

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