Three Questions to Get Your Staff to Take Ownership

A common theme in all my workshops and keynotes is that leaders want their staff to take ownership. Staff constantly ask for solutions, direction and ideas, instead of solving problems themselves and getting things done.

The number one thing that stops staff from taking ownership is pretty simple to fix. Ready for it?

Leaders - stop solving their problems for them!

That’s the key thing that I see leaders doing wrong. When we solve people’s problems, when we do it ourselves or we give them the solution, then our staff don't have to think for themselves - why would they? As an added bonus, they now don’t have to take responsibility for the decision, because it was your idea. This probably doesn’t create the culture that you want. Just a guess.

But after this, here are three questions that will help you get your people to take ownership.

1)    What would you do if I wasn’t here?

Our staff are sometimes forced to solve problems when we’re away. So they must know a thing or two (at least) about what to do. Simply ask them what course of action they would take if you were away on leave or out of the office. Then tell them to go and do that.

2) What have you done so far to solve the problem?

Chances are they haven’t done anything really. They brought the problem to you (mostly because you solve it for them!). When they reply ‘nothing’ - then you can either go back to question one, or your can say “well, go away and try three different things then come back to me if you still need my help.

If they tell you a few things they’ve tried (gasp!) - the simply ask the follow up question: “what else could you do?”

3) What do you think I’m going to ask you?

Ok - so this question comes only after spending some very consistent time asking the questions above. Our objective is to make it easier for the person to solve the problem themselves, and more difficult to come to you for the answer. If you’ve been really consistent in your line of questioning, then your staff member will recite the usual questions you ask them

“You’ll ask me what would I do if you’re not here.”

“You’ll ask me what have I tried already.”

“You’ll ask me what else can I try.”

Ultimately, we want the staff member to ask themselves the same question that we are going to ask - before they come to us - so that they can solve the problem themselves. When they do this - your little coaching experiment has been a success.

As always, leadership is about taking responsibility for the behaviours of your people. Even the behaviours you don’t like. What we do - and how we respond to people - has a huge impact on the behaviours that people choose.

** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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