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Gain The Lead
As a fintech leader, what does ownership mean to you?
It’s a prominent topic these days, especially as payment providers (and the broader fintech industry) shift to remote settings and home offices. Leaders and employees must adapt during times of change. Encouraging and proliferating ownership was already difficult before this seismic shift. Now it’s an even taller task.
Are your employees taking ownership over their responsibilities and designated projects?
Before we explore this question, let’s define ownership in this new business environment.
What Is Ownership in Today’s Ever-Changing Business Environment?
Ownership means being fully responsible for completing a task, from step one through the finish line. But what does being “fully responsible” mean? That can translate to planning, delegating, communicating, monitoring, and executing. No matter the task, someone who takes full ownership makes sure that everything happens from A to Z.
For fintech leaders, ownership is easier to understand, buy into, and implement — it comes with the nature of their role. The challenge is conveying that ownership mentality to employees, particularly junior-level roles. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be developed.
It’s easy to define ownership, but how can we spot team development opportunities and enhance it?
Identifying Team Development Opportunities to Build Ownership
Ownership isn’t a hard concept to wrap our heads around, but identifying ownership opportunities and bridging any gaps is another story. Let’s walk through a couple of common situations for payment providers.
One of your employees misses the deadline of an important project. The employee says, “Well, I couldn’t do it because other departments weren’t communicating or contributing like they were supposed to.” Or maybe they say, “I couldn’t finish in time because I have so many other things going on.”
These issues aren’t impossible to fix. However, in an environment with zero or low ownership, you might find out about these hurdles in the final moments before a deadline — or once it’s too late. But this scenario prompts two vital questions, particularly around communication skills and company-wide communication strategy:
If other departments weren’t doing their jobs, how long has the employee known that other departments were slacking?
If the employee’s workload was full, how long has the employee known that capacity was an issue?
These excuses often plague fintech companies, resulting in project delays, unnecessary costs, and wasted resources. However, in an environment of high ownership, these excuses don’t exist because the process isn’t siloed or fragmented — the employee would rely on planning capabilities, communication skills, and delegation procedures to ensure the task is executed in full, regardless of unforeseen disruptions.
How to Foster a Culture of Ownership as a Fintech Leader
Payment providers are competitive, so they tend to attract top talent. That said, ownership doesn’t come naturally for most people. It’s cultivated by the company’s culture and work environment. Therefore, as a leader, it’s up to you to employ effective communication strategies and foster a culture of true ownership. Let’s look at what fintech leaders can do to make this happen.
Step #1: Communicate what ownership means to your team
First, define what ownership means to you. Ask yourself:
- What does ownership mean?
- What are some high-ownership behaviors?
- What are some low-ownership behaviors?
- How can I encourage or discourage these behaviors?
For example, here are a few answers you might come up with:
- Ownership means taking care of everything from A to Z, involving all other necessary stakeholders, and delivering on time.
- High-ownership behaviors could mean taking responsibility when things get off track by communicating the issues immediately. (Communication skills are invaluable in any organization.)
- High-ownership behaviors could also mean bringing calculated solutions to the table when there’s a problem, such as moving target dates depending on capacity or suggesting extra resources.
- Low-ownership behaviors could be neglecting problems or failing to raise concerns.
Next, share your ownership definition with your team. By involving your team in the process (and, ideally, memorializing it in writing), we raise the chances of people taking ownership immensely. If people know exactly what’s expected from them, they’re much more likely to apply it. And even if they don’t, we can help correct their behavior and develop the right mentality.
If every member of the team takes full ownership of their responsibilities, then the whole team is more productive. It’s also a fulfilling and infectious environment to be in. If we’re surrounded by team members that truly take ownership, our workdays are far more rewarding. Work satisfaction rises across the board.
Having fun at work isn’t as farfetched as you might think.
Step #2: Allow and encourage creative liberty
After providing clear goals with expected timelines, fintech leaders should let employees decide the path to completion. Otherwise, you can unwittingly stunt the growth of an ownership mentality by setting rigid guidelines. People can only take true ownership if they have the freedom to generate the path between where they are now and achieving the goal of a task or a project.
If an employee receives too much instruction or guidance, they’ll interpret that strictly and perform the task in a particular way. As a result, they have less ownership in the process.
Creative liberty to see a project from start to finish cultivates ownership. Therefore, sometimes we have to keep our lips sealed instead of giving too much direction.
Step #3: Handle mistakes or problems with care
In a high-ownership organization, employees are responsible for continuously updating project statuses, including mistakes, blockages, and risks. When an employee comes to you with a mistake or problem, how will you react?
For payment providers, an ownership atmosphere is a culture of learning. If someone makes mistakes or things don’t work out as planned, it’s a learning opportunity. So we, as leaders, should listen carefully, especially to their solutions. If their solutions require us to decide something that’s outside the employee’s realm, then we can jump in. Apart from that, just be there as a sounding board, helping them think through and find ideal solutions.
However, there’s a critical mistake that many fintech leaders make in this situation. They ask, “Well, why didn’t you just do it like this?” As soon as we do that, it shows distrust in the employee — in response, they’ll drop their approach and follow ours most of the time. This reduces ownership.
When people make mistakes or processes don’t flow perfectly, it’s our opportunity to further strengthen their ownership by letting them determine the solution.
Step #4: Reward high-ownership behaviors
An employee takes ownership by coming to you with a challenge and solutions. You can reinforce this ownership mentality by rewarding them with praise, recognition, and confirmation that they’re moving in the right direction.
Keep in mind, giving employees ownership also means that when a project succeeds, it’s their success. Your role should be downplayed and theirs should be accentuated in your praise and recognition.
By recognizing the ownership of other team members and other departments in the organization, you can drive a strong, infectious change that spurs ownership, higher performance, fulfillment, and creative ideas throughout the organization.
And have fun at work in the process.