Employee Ownership Development (EOD)
As I’ve often said, managers don’t do the work, the workers do the work. BUT, the manager has a huge responsibility to prepare the workers to successfully do the work. This encompasses everything from hiring, training, nurturing, firing and retiring. This is also where Talent Development, as we like to call it these days, comes into play. But talent development doesn't just happen. Everyone needs guidance to develop talent, even managers. Everyone has a boss at some level above them, even if a person owns a company; the owner has to respond to customers as the boss. The idea here is that employees (workers) do a better job if they “own” the various tasks they are designated to perform. In order to own those tasks, employees need to understand as much as they can about the task, not just about how to do the task, but more so, why the task(s) are important. So, I believe in talent development through successive approximations. Successive approximation is one of those generic terms that apply to a lot of different situations. One of the recent uses of the term is the SAM model of instructional design in a book called “Leaving ADDIE for SAM” by Michael Allen and published by the Association for Talent Development (TD.ORG). SAM in this case means Successive Approximations Model. The term “successive approximations” has been around for years, popularized by the use of the Situational Leadership Model of Hersey and Blanchard among others. In my use of the term, successive approximations, means gradually providing guidance through telling, training, transfer of responsibility and finally fully trusting the worker to successfully complete the assigned task. I believe talent development is task specific. That is, a person can complete a given task very successfully, but fail completely at an unrelated task. It's our job as leaders, trainers, educators and managers to ensure a full spectrum of employee success by developing our people in all of their tasks. As we develop employees in each task, their overall ability, and thus their value to the organization, will grow accordingly. My Employee Ownership Development (EOD) Model is designed to focus on developing task specific skills which then aid the employee in successful task completion which then leads to a spiral development of increasing skills and employee responsibility and task ownership. I'm convinced based on my years in leadership and management positions and my many research projects that employees who take responsibility, or
“ownership” for their tasks will consistently do a better job.
The EOD model requires that the supervisor tell the employee what they need to know to successfully complete the task. Then train the employee on why the task is important and why it is done this way. Once the employee understands the why, the supervisor should transfer responsibility for success to the employee by empowering the employee all that required to be successful. Finally, the supervisor must trust the employee to complete the task without external motivation.
Before we go into the details of the four steps, it’s important to understand that the EOD model is task specific. These means that an employee could be fully successful and “own” a given task, yet, not “own” another required task at all, thus failing miserably on that particular task. When we talk task, what are we talking about? A task is defined as a work activity that has a definite beginning and ending, is observable, consist of two or more definite steps, and leads to a product, service, or decision. The critical attributes are that the work unit has a clear start and stop, must be observable in some manner, have at least two steps and lead to some logical outcome, that is a product, service or decision that impacts the next person or activity in a larger process. For example, in a financial institution, say a bank for example, an employee could receive a cash deposit from a customer and successfully post the deposit to the correct person’s account. We can say that the deposit is a task and an employee can be trained to “own” that task. Conversely, in the same bank, we would not say that reaching for a stapler to staple two documents together is a task, but simply a step of the task of providing the stapled documentation to the customer. Some might argue the fine points of this invoking muscle use, brain activity and desire to pick up the stapler, but for our purposes, that carries the definition of task to a minute level that is not constructive in everyday EOD.
Understanding this definition is important to understanding the EOD model. Employees may engage in a number of actions in a given time period, but if they do not meet the critical attributes of this definition, then they are not tasks in terms of work productivity.
In the first stage of employee ownership development, the supervisor must “Tell” the employee what they need to know to successfully complete the task. This initial step in EOD provides the very minimum an employee needs to know to do the job. The goal here is to provide just enough information to the employee to be minimally successful on the job. It is not likely that the average employee will eagerly embrace the task with this minimum amount of information. There will be exceptions to this, the new hire who is enthusiastic about any new task, or as I call them, the “gleefully take out the 3 day old fish” employee. So called because some employees will embrace every task, even taking out the very foul smelling 3 day old fish to the distant trash receptacle. But without support in the form of training, transferring and trusting, this enthusiasm will soon wane.
The second stage of EOD requires the employee be trained on why the task is important and why it is done in a particular way. This training can take many forms but is essential for the employee to developing ownership of the task. Without understanding how the particular task fits into the organization’s big picture, the employee will soon lose interest in the importance and thus the necessity of doing the task correctly. There are two equally important aspects to this second stage. After the employee has been told what to do, they must be trained on why the task is important. This might include a short discussion or even a trip through the organization explaining how the employee’s task is important to a number of other people of the organization. For example if an employee is hired as a buyer in an electronics assembly firm, this might require a tour of the organization to see how the electronic parts to be purchased are actually used. A discussion with the end user on the importance of timely arrival of parts would likely help the employee own the process of parts procurement. This answers the “why the task is important” part of this second stage. As for the “why the task is done this way” part of the second stage, the employee might need to talk with members of the accounting department who actually manage funds. This discussion could clear up any confusion on why certain forms require particular information and what happens to that information. Combining these two “whys” helps the employee understand how important the task is and moves the employee up the ownership steps.
The third stage of EOD requires transfer of responsibility for success to the employee by empowerment. To understand this stage, we need to look at the two key concepts, transfer of responsibility and empowerment. First, transfer of responsibility is defined as the employee taking responsibility for all aspects of the task. This means they not only know the how and why of the task but now are embracing the task no matter what its status. It’s easy for an employee to accept responsibility when all is going well, but it’s more difficult when things might go awry. For example, using our earlier banking example, a teller might accept transfer of responsibility every day in every task until one day, a customer attempts to cash a badly torn and partially illegible check. Does the teller own responsibility for accepting or rejecting the check according to the bank’s policies or does the teller ask a supervisor for guidance? If the teller has reached the transfer of responsibility stage and understands the bank’s policies fully, they can normally make the appropriate decision.
The fourth stage of EOD requires trust be placed in the employee and the employee to accept that trust. The two critical attributes of this final stage require a symbiotic relationship. That is, the employee must understand the level of trust the manager has placed in the employee to complete the task and the manager must understand the impact of completely handing off responsibility to the employee to complete the task. “Letting go” of a given task is not always easy for managers to do. Trusting the employee to fully own a task and not micromanage any step of the task means trusting that the employee has been properly developed to fully own the task from start to finish.
It’s important to reiterate here that we are talking about owning specific task behavior. Employees can be at various stages of EOD on various tasks they are required to perform. For example, going back to our banking example again, a teller might have the following daily tasks: clock in, remove their assigned cash drawer from the vault, verify contents of the cash drawer, verify all forms needed for the day’s work, set up the teller workspace, cash checks, receive deposits, and so forth. A teller might have achieved full ownership for each of these tasks except setting up the teller workspace according to bank policies. It would be a simple oversight by the leader/manager/trainer if the employee had not been properly told/trained why the teller workspace should be set up in a specific manner. This shortfall would prevent the employee from transferring the specific skills set forth in the institution’s policy for teller workspaces.