Competition is a fact of life if you own, run, or otherwise supervise a business. There’s always another company or brand out there that’s trying to give you a run for your money － offering customers a bigger, better, more affordable product line or service experience. And if you don’t want your audience to be swept away or your bottom line to suddenly shrink when they discover this, you need to start cultivating an improvement culture.
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About the Culture of Ownership
Stagnation is the enemy of innovation, which makes it something you must avoid if you want to hold your own against the competition. Wondering how to do this? Truth be told, there are a million tiny steps you can take to help you accomplish your goal, but perhaps one of the most important moves you can make is to ensure you’re generating a culture of ownership within your business.
What we mean by this is that you want to create a work environment where employees feel that they are the masters of their own domain － that ultimately they are the ones responsible for the paths their careers take, the work they produce, and the personal development that’ll shape not only the course of their work lives but their lives off the clock as well.
Encouraging employees to make goals for themselves is particularly useful in creating this sense of self-drive and responsibility. And the reason for this is really simple: it’s good for employee satisfaction and business success alike.
As explained by Culture Amp, “By empowering your direct reports to set their own goals, your direct reports can feel a sense of agency and ownership of their professional path. This is likely to translate to higher engagement on their end.”
However, do be warned that not just any goals will do. Guiding the people you’re managing to make SMART goals (those that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) rather than those that are vague, too lofty, or without an end date is better for everyone involved. After all, there’s a reason nearly everyone knows the acronym by now! It truly works.
Leveling Up with OKRs
Using employee-driven goal-setting to craft a culture of ownership is a strong start towards a better business, yet this is still only half of the solution. On top of actually supporting employees and allowing them to make individualized goals, you really need to set up some kind of goal-setting framework. This will put them (and you!) in a better position to succeed because goals can be more clearly defined and the outcomes can be both measured and tracked over time.
There are several different avenues you can take here, but we’d recommend OKRs － or Objectives and Key Results － to the majority of businesses that are trying out intentional goal-setting methodologies for the first time. Straightforward but powerful, they will allow you to see solid payoff for the effort yet should be very easy for you and employees to use effectively.
Just what are OKRs, though? What do they even do? Well, we like the way Culture Amp explains it. As they say in their article on how to use OKRs, “OKRs tie individual goals up to top-level business success to increase organizational alignment, workplace agility, and employee motivation.”
In other words, OKRs essentially blend the personal with the collective professional. They take future plans/intentions that are internally motivated and self-driven and turn them into something that’s collaboratively meaningful － that will bring good results and fulfillment not just to the individual who set them but to everyone within the larger business.
Of course, OKRs don’t mean anything if your workforce doesn’t understand them, regard them as important, or see correct implementation － which is why measuring how this kind of goal setting is viewed at your company is so critical.
The simplest way to go about this is by surveying, asking questions such as if employees understand how their role contributes to the company, if managers are setting appropriate strategies for achieving goals, and if progress is monitored with regular check-ins. However, as you gain feedback over time, you’ll likely find more personalized ways to access employees’ feelings on goal setting.
How to Create a Rhythm
We’ve talked a lot about goal-setting today, insisting that proper use of OKRs and SMART goals, and cultivating a culture where employees actually want to set ambitious but attainable goals for themselves is a major key to business success － which it is. Though, as we all know, there’s a lot more to it than this one focus.
In order to build a better business, a full-scale effort must be made to flip the usual company operation script. You have to develop a better system that incentivizes an improvement culture, one which believes personal success breeds collective success and encourages employees to reach for more instead of barely meeting the bare minimum. And this means you need to shift from a strategy that relies on control to one that’s based on eliciting commitment.
Letting go of said control and getting into the rhythm of a different work culture and management strategy is hard. We get that. As the HBR has poignantly said, “established modes of doing things have an inertia all their own.” But it is infinitely easier when you take small, progressive steps, triple-check that everyone’s on the same page, and simply don’t stop once the ball’s rolling. Use inertia to your advantage!
Left uncertain about the changes you need to make along the way, though? Here’s the winning recipe: push for self-supervising, make collaboration the norm through the creation of small work teams, provide as much training as possible, thoroughly brief teams on potential issues, and offer pay that reflects the skill mastery and dedication levels you want to see in your workforce. Engagement will see a serious boost, and an improvement culture will naturally begin to form.
Out of all the things that can happen to a business, stagnation is one of the worst. It makes competing with the other companies in the game nearly impossible and can dramatically impact your bottom line. Luckily, cultivating an improvement culture by promoting employee ownership over their own performance and career path, using OKRs for good goal-setting, and shifting to a commitment-based business strategy is just the ticket you need to once again succeed.