A couple of years ago, I discussed the concepts and principles of workplace stewardship (Four Principles of Workplace Stewardship). Though it is important to understand that these principles exist, it is even more important to examine how to apply these principles. In effect, how can a solid understanding of these principles alter our actions in such a way that we see improvements in workplace culture? Then, as a result, what is the impact on individual and team performance?
To review, stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. So, for workplace stewardship, we have a responsibility to manage what gets done and how it gets done. It is not enough to achieve results alone; likewise, we can do things perfectly, but, without results, our business cannot survive. Creating that perfect balance, then, is our challenge.
The four principles of workplace stewardship are the principles of:
Today, let’s look at these in more detail and see how each can impact workplace culture and performance.
Principle of Ownership
- I get to make meaningful decisions – I think everyone wants at least some autonomy in their job to make meaningful decisions. We all want to believe that we can personally make a difference. The primary basis of the Principle of Ownership is that we all have a key part to play in the role we play. Whether we serve as the CEO of a major corporation or provide face-to-face service to customers, we must make decisions every day that impact others. An owner of an ice cream stand cannot abdicate the need to decide what flavors to offer, who to hire, and what hours to be open. This Principle requires that we act like the sole owner of the function entrusted to our care. And, as the owner, we must act in a way that will meet the needs of our customers (both internal and external) and serve the needs of our business. So, in your current role, what do you own? What decisions must you make to ensure your function thrives? Have you been abdicating critical decisions that only you can make?
- However, it is not mine – Being an “owner” in the workplace also means that I must share… it isn’t mine to hold alone. The best decisions are rarely made by one person acting alone. Information I hold is likely needed by others. I need to realize that the decisions I make impact others… in fact, they could impact MANY others. Have you ever worked with another individual that withheld information because they were insecure? The belief that “… as long as no one else has that information, I am indispensable.” Being an owner means you share resources, you share information, and you share decision-making. You work together to make the workplace better and to achieve better results. The best outcome usually comes when the power of the team functions together to achieve more than could have been achieved individually. And, as a leader, you need to learn when to let go. In my own experience, some of the greatest results ever achieved within my groups was when I relinquished control and allowed others to use their own abilities and creativity to achieve results. People are empowered when you give them freedom to operate and excel without the limitations incurred when you get in their way.
- Achieving the greatest good for the most – The ultimate goal of an owner is to create the most value possible with the resources expended. In other words, a good owner is continuously striving to create results better today than yesterday. In our own workplace, we should be continuously asking questions about the value of what we do. For example, what things do we do that create no value? Should we continue them? If we stopped that activity, would anyone notice? I remember once stopping a report that had been generated each week for years. No one notice or asked why no report was issued. It was just that simple to save an hour each week to spend on things of greater value.
Principle of Responsibility
- Others first – The first thing we must understand within the Principle of Responsibility is that it is not about us. Though we would like to think that our thoughts, ideas, and plans are most important, that is not necessarily the case. When we realize that our responsibility is to do what is best for the whole, not just me, we’ve taken a large step toward being the kind of coworker, leader, or teammate that will drive the most success with results and satisfaction in the workplace.
- Doing my part – Another key factor in being a responsible individual is to do your part. I’ve seen many individuals that seek any possible excuse to not get their specific job done on time. As a key member of a group, we have to realize that we are all important components in a process. If any component fails to fulfill their part, the process could fail. Additionally, when one member fails to do his/her part – that is, he/she becomes a weak link – the impact to all other members is significant. Someone has to pick up the slack. One weak link, especially when it is simply by choice, can impact the morale of the entire group.
- Getting things done, despite what others do (or don’t do) – Finally, we must all understand that there is no excuse to fail to achieve what is expected. That goes for individuals and teams. When one individual fails, others must fill that gap. When one individual cannot fulfill their task, others need to come alongside that person to do what is best for the whole. The bottom line is that getting things done is our responsibility. And getting things done often means we are outside our comfort zone, that we are taken advantage of, or that we don’t necessarily like the situation we find ourselves. We have to do what is necessary to meet the responsibilities we have accepted or been placed.
Principle of Accountability
- Doing what you say you’ll do – With responsibility comes accountability. We all answer to someone. We all have others that depend upon us. I’m sure we have all worked with individuals that were very willing to make promises or commitments, yet it was rare when these were kept. Being a person that can be trusted to do what they say is a marker for credibility. An honorable individual – a person of integrity – does not have to be continually reminded to fulfill commitments.
- Meeting expected timelines – Likewise, doing what we promise on the timetable promised is another factor that drives both results and morale. A family member made a contract with a contractor to perform work at their house last fall. The agreement was that the contractor would build a backyard pool beginning in March. However, excuse after excuse delayed the start of the project until June. At this point, no matter what the ultimate work quality might be or the service from this point on, the contractor is tainted because he failed to begin (and complete) the project when promised. Do what you say and do it on the timeline promised. It is basic element of that thing we call integrity.
- Doing the right things the right way – Sometimes it is easy to get things done on time, but corners must be cut to achieve it. In the workplace, it is expected that we’ll do things the right way. It is a basic expectation that we will treat others well, that we’ll be kind, that we’ll be a good teammate, that we’ll add value. Knowing that our work reflects, not only on ourselves, but our teammates and our company should motivate us to be reliable and considerate of the expectations of others.
Principle of Rewards
- Recognizing the efforts of others – One of the key “rewards” we receive in the workplace is the recognition from others of a job well done. Certainly, it is good to receive the praise of our boss. However, being recognized by peers may be even more desired. Think about a time when someone you work with every day said thanks for doing such a great job. It probably made your day! Seeing the good work of others and making a point to highlight it can make a significant different both to that individual and the team. Try it!
- Passing it on – Similarly, when you are praised for a job well done, it is important to also recognize others that participated. When in doubt, praise the work of others. Be liberal in your recognition of others. It will pay off in both results and in creating a positive, collaborative workplace.
- Fulfillment for a job well done – Finally, one of the rewards we receive is that of knowing that we made a difference to someone else. Helping the ultimate customer, providing a needed service, exceeding the expectations of others all feed our need of job fulfillment. I am convinced that many individuals lack fulfillment in their job because they see no value in what they do. When you walk to your car at the end of the day, you can hold your head high knowing that you did your part and made a difference to someone.
Finding joy in your work, contributing to something important, helping others become successful, being a man/woman of integrity, turning a bad day into a good one for someone else… these are the things that make work worthwhile. These are the things that show others you care. When everyone does these consistently, your results and culture will be the model for every other group. And, your results will consistently exceed expectations.