Ownership, the Secret Ingredient

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by: Sigurd Rinde

Inject the most secret, largely misunderstood but highly efficient ingredient into your company. Daring recipe to follow, only for the brave. 
"My football team won!" "We did that!" "That’s my house!"

Ownership (in human terms) does not require a deed or contract, it applies to your ideas or the task you helped finish. Even tangible stuff can be "owned" without a deed; the car you lease is still "your" car even if the registration papers says otherwise.

The opposite is true as well, you might well hold the deed to the thing or property but if you have no say then legal ownership has only a marginal effect. If I have to ask for permission to change a picture on the wall, if I was decreed by somebody to mow the lawn on Saturday at 10 am, if the arrival and departure of guests was set in a calendar by somebody else – would I feel that the house was "mine"? No amount of deeds and keys would help, it would not be "mine".

"That’s my work!" "I did that!" "I Made it!"

Accomplishment, the pride in sealing the ownership to work well done. 

So why bother with ownership and pride?

Because we’re all involved in communal undertakings – groups of all kinds including commercial undertakings. 

If the participants (see employees and partners) are strongly driven in a coherent way, preferably getting much joy from the drive, well then the chances of success would be much higher! 

Ownership is the strongest driver of them all, love and hunger aside (albeit pretty futile to try using those).

Ah, but we have bonus and stock-options to drive our fine leaders you say?
Study this light hearted decision tree for bonus and pay challenged bank executives receiving state support, as suggested by Business Week in their Feb 23 issue. 
Despite the humorous poke it’s still logical or what?

Pure monetary incentives are almost useless, strong perhaps, but inevitably short term interests clashes with long term and morality and principles are easily compromised. 

Look no further than the current crisis and how the "incentives and bonuses" have wreaked havoc. 

Option schemes, share ownership for employees – all nice and dandy as a principle, but totally off the mark if the purpose is to create a feeling of ownership. Unless the shareholders get a direct say as well you could just as well disburse with cash, same diff.

Does a small shareholder in a large corporation feel the ownership? Would you feel the ownership if some little clique of managers has taken charge of the whole thing, informing you occasionally through Wall Street Journal or an annual report while jetting around on your penny?
True ownership on the other hand has meaning, balances short and long term purposes and yields true pleasure. It binds, it drives, it makes sense, in short it’s basically human – but only ownership that transcends the legal meaning of the word.
I can only think of a few examples that have included some of the right meaning of ownership: One would be Berkshire Hathaway. The leader shows in all he does that he’s merely the leader of the pack but that you’re all in it together. His letter to shareholders, his hours of Q&A at the annual shareholder’s meeting, his openness towards fellow shareholders – it’s all there and I bet you if you ask a long term shareholder he might very well utter "our company" when he talks about it on his flight back from Omaha.

Still it’s hard to include thousands and thousands in a two way discussion and for decisions. Especially when letters and physical meetings were the only means, still Mr Buffet managed to get it more right than others.

The Open Source movement is another story, differing from Berkshire Hathaway in only two aspects – one being they have no commercial interests directly in the product thus no need for equity shares, secondly they use the modern networking technologies in contrast to letters and annual get-togethers.

In other words the strongest possible incentive for working hard and smart while offering great pleasure and true meaning is open to be used by commercial enterprises. The technology that could make it possible is available, but it will only work if those with power dare. And therein lies the issue for the current owners and management; dare to open up, dare to be transparent, dare to include, dare to be one of us – dare to include the owner community in decisions! 

And those that one day will dare will win big. Unleash and use one of the strongest motivators there is for commercial purposes and I think you will drive past your competition. No pun intended.

Original Post: http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2009/02/ownership-the-secret-ingredient.html