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Getting Employees to Take Ownership

Getting Employees to Take Ownership

Running IntelligenceOriginally Published in Running Intelligence

I recently spoke with the owners of a terrific running specialty store. They understand the retail specialty business and how to both acquire customers and create a terrific customer experience in the store. Their challenge is finding the time to do it all. I know they are not alone. No matter the business climate, the running specialty store owner never has enough time. This column is focused on one specific strategy for addressing this problem: getting employees to take more ownership for results in your store.

There are two primary components that are required to get an employee to take ownership: the employee’s talent & motivation and the owner/manager’s time. Without talent and motivation, employees won’t take initiative. But even the best employees can’t take responsibility for work if you don’t invest the time to explain to them what needs to happen, why it is important, and how to make it happen.

Here are some different scenarios and different approaches for helping employees to take ownership of their work.

Get out of your own way. Sometimes the store owner is the biggest obstacle blocking the way to employee initiative. If you have a strong individual on your staff that has proven his or her ability to get things done, carve out a specific area of responsibility and ask them to put together a plan to take it over. Review the plan with them and provide your input and suggestions. Then agree to Next Actions and let them run with it. Trust me, the best thing you can do is let go of some control and let people do what they are capable of doing.

Have them set their own goals. As leaders and managers we often insist on dictating to people what they need to know in order to be effective. With your more senior people, ask them to tell you what they need, and ask them to set their goals and objectives first. You will often find that they set more demanding goals and timeframes than you would. That puts you in a stronger position of scaling goals and timeframes down (or leaving them alone but knowing they are probably unrealistic). The employee is now aiming for goals and completion dates that he has set for himself.

Develop Apprentices. Many of the running specialty stores with which I work have one or more great but inexperienced employees. Many of these employees are still students, but they have enviable intelligence and drive. I often recommend that these employees be made “apprentices” in areas like new customer acquisition or financial management. They are not ready to take over complete ownership, but they can be the internal point person for scheduling events or doctors visits or entering invoices and following up with vendors. The key here is to define the Key Results that your Apprentice is responsible for creating. Take the time to define their role. Include them in as many meetings and events as you can. You provide them with the opportunity to learn, and this will save you precious time and help you to invest yourself in higher-value activities.

Don’t treat people like gophers. You have to take the time to carve out projects or responsibilities that people can own and throw themselves into. One of the primary reasons that people fail to delegate well is that they refuse to take the time to define what they want done and to outline what steps someone should take to do it.

Invest in your best people. There is a tendency in many businesses to devote too much precious time to problem children and not enough with your best employees. As the owner or manager of a store, you have a tremendous number of things to oversee and your time to invest with employees is limited. Make sure to invest your time where it will yield the biggest return. In other words, find the employees who have the best attitude and work ethic and invest your time with them.

Don’t leave your passenger seat empty. Take people with you to events and meetings. One of the best ways to assess if an employee has the right stuff is to include him or her in a vendor meeting or in planning a marketing event. Get employees exposed to the different aspects of your business.

Hold weekly individual meetings. Your best employees need you to coach them through the process of taking on more responsibility. You, however, are extremely conscious of your time and want to invest it in areas that generate the biggest payoff. One method for doing this is scheduling a regular weekly meeting with this employee. This gives you scheduled time to help them learn what they need to learn. It also provides you with a set time to measure their progress and make sure they are getting things done.

Make sure you don’t have managers in name only. You should not be the only person providing accountability in your store. If you have a store manager, is he or she really managing others? Or is she a manager in name only? If you have retail floor leads, are they really leading? An effective Next Action may be to simply strengthen the roles that you have already created in your company.

Create checklists and documenting processes. What are the tasks that must be accomplished every morning on your retail floor? Are they documented? Is that document often referred to? If not, take some basic steps to systematize by creating checklists. This will greatly help you and your leaders to hold others accountable for results.

Everyone develops their successor. At Edward Jones, the St. Louis based brokerage house and investment bank, you cannot be promoted unless you have identified a qualified person to take your position. The owners and managers of your store should be intentionally working themselves out of their positions by training others to take on their responsibilities.

Keep your best people involved with customers. There can be a tendency for employees to equate having a “real job” with being responsible for non-sales floor activities such as marketing or buying. Those activities are critical, but remind people that the best job in the store is still serving customers! Not only is it the most fun, it is the most valuable. Your store will thrive only if it creates enthusiastic customers who refer their friends and associates. From that perspective, your best employees should consistently be spending some of their time on the sales floor.

Give your best employees a career, not a job. Working in a good running specialty store provides employees with a wide range of experiences and good contacts. Take the time to ask your best employees about their goals for their career and their life. Work with them to shape their responsibilities to help them achieve their goals. In this way, you increase the chances that your best people will stick around and take on even more ownership and responsibility down the road.


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