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Ownership

Updated: May 16, 2023

I trained them – if they didn’t learn it, or they don’t put it into practice, that’s on them.

Ever hear someone say that? Ever say it yourself? Ever think it?

Our work – changing workplace behavior for the better – is hard. Like, really hard. And in the face of that difficulty – when confronted with barriers to success – it’s easy to make excuses.

All your excuses are lies. Jocko Willink

I have met many hardworking, well intentioned professionals who have made that excuse, and what it boils down to is a lack of ownership. We have to own the problem, and then we own the ecosystem that can support the mitigation or even elimination of that problem. Training, eLearning modules, microlearning videos, etc. are part of that ecosystem, but they’re not the whole thing. You can’t stop at “I did my part.” If the problem isn’t solved, you have work to do.

Some might say “But James, I’m not a director or operations manager – I’m [a trainer, an instructional designer, an elearning assets curator, etc.] – I can’t be there in the field where the rest of the learning and improvement is supposed to happen.

True. Stil an excuse.

Ownership is not the same as control. Yes, you may not be able to directly monitor, assess, correct, and reinforce on-the-job behavior, but there are people who can – managers, and the workers themselves. What you can’t directly do, you can support others to do – helping managers gather the skill, will, and resources to coach their people, prompt them to reflect on performance, and celebrate small wins.

Barriers to improvement exist in the environments, not the people. We have to own the environment.

Now, one could absolutely argue that there are, indeed, instances when people are extremely disorganized, unmotivated, or woefully lacking in the knowledge and skill to successfully complete a task. Those circumstances may require special support or interventions best left to the manager and HR. However, that can’t be our default mode; that’s the excuse that people use to let themselves off the hook by blaming the learner and not owning their responsibility for the environment in which the learning is to occur.

If you are willing to take ownership, don’t be surprised when your learners rise to that same challenge. We are partnering with them, which means both L&D and the learners must own the improvement. When we see others take ownership in a challenge in which we ourselves are involved, we are prompted to reflect on our own role in that challenge. Some may call themselves out—“Hey, I think I could have paid better attention”—while others may silently commit to doing whatever they need to do to get a better result in the future. It’s not an overnight culture change; it may take repeated evidence of your ownership to build that mindset. But it will happen if you’re consistent, transparent, and clear about what you expect of yourself in supporting their performance.

Let me be clear: Taking ownership to inspire others is not manipulation. If you just pretend to own a problem, secretly blaming the learners, and then your people are happy to let you own that problem, you’re not likely to continue the pretense. The truth will come out, so be ready to truly own the struggles, and successes, of your learners.

And when you do, your partners in the field will take greater ownership, too.

Much of this blog, and my philosophy on ownership, comes from the work of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, former Navy SEALs and authors of the bestselling book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. You can learn more about them and the work they do to support organizations lead and win at EchelonFront.com.

James McKenna

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Until next time,

James

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Headshot for James McKenna

Hi,
I'm James

I love to learn, and l love to help others do the same. I write, I appear on podcasts, and sometimes speak at conferences. I share content here and hope you'll find it helpful. 

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