I got a problem Y’all: Ownership, is more than just successful outcomes.

I Got A Problem Y’all: Hi there. First, I have truly been inspired by these post. The advice you are giving is clear, concise, and quickly adopted into my leadership routines. With that said…I got a problem y’all, and I can really use your help. I have a staff member that refuses to own the outcome of anything. If the assignment results in any form of a shortcoming, she immediately serves up excuses and scapegoats. I feel I have created an environment that fosters growth and creativity. I have encouraged her to also provide recommended solutions when she presents me with a problem, but that has produced limited results. I feel I have hit a wall with her and need some help. — Nothing Sticks

Hi Nothing Sticks: We are so happy to hear you found the previous post useful! We can definitely help you with this challenge; in fact, ownership is our theme this month at BSC. Let’s start with understanding why the person is avoiding responsibility for her actions. This can be driven by the environment, extreme negative consequences for failure to achieve goals, public ridicule for not meeting expectations, along with a limited amount of support or communication. In this setting, the employee feels there are severe and long-lasting impacts that come with failure, avoided only by side-stepping ownership. Even if this doesn’t describe your environment, did they face this in a previous job? Some people struggle with failure of any sort. The only way to avoid failure is not to take action or any risk; ownership requires someone to commit to something. Another contributing factor to a situation like this is a leader that enables the behavior by taking a passive-aggressive approach around the topic versus actually having an open and honest dialogue about the concerns. 

Let’s take these in reverse order. Have you had a direct conversation with the individual? Did you say something to the effect of, “I am concerned about your lack of ownership when it comes to the result of your work. Over the past several months, when something does not go as planned, you present me with reasons or deflections that alleviate any accountability on your part. Failure is a normal part of the improvement process; ownership is a requirement to achieve successful results. Can you help me understand why you are struggling with taking ownership of your work? Is there a reason you are avoiding the appearance of owning a failure?” Opening a dialogue will help you understand what is really happening here. Be direct in your conversation to avoid any side-stepping or confusion about the topic. Ask her to think about what’s in it for her to own something? What can she achieve by modifying her behavior? Once the initial issue with ownership has been discussed, you will need to develop an action plan to help correct the behavior. Do not forget to include milestones and check-ins along the way.

We all bring our own baggage to the table, our experiences have shaped our behaviors and often drive our responses. For those who avoid ownership due to a fear of failure, this can be paralyzing in the workplace — often selling themselves short by selecting positions that do not push them to further their development and reach their full potential. Once again, this must start with an open and honest dialogue about what is holding the person back. Based on the relationship and trust you have fostered with this person will determine the level of openness you receive in their response. This may take several discussions to uncover the drivers behind the behavior. Consider a neutral, informal setting for the conversation, increase your interaction with them during the workday to create more opportunities for developing a connection. Once you have uncovered the root cause, create a personal development plan with them. Be clear about the objectives and verify their willingness to fully participate in this development process. You will need to stay close and check-in frequently. Overcoming behavioral habits requires repetitive efforts and will often include setbacks along the way. Acknowledge them, identify ways to improve, and be persistent.  

If you are presented with issues from a previous environment, you need to acknowledge them and empathize with how difficult this must have been for her. You then need to remind her of all the ways your workplace is not similar. Tell her that you understand how this will take time to overcome, and then develop an action plan together that focuses on building trust between you both. You will need to be fully committed to this plan, failure to follow through on your part will damage the relationship further. You will need to have frequent communication and feedback points included in your plan. Be prepared for some setbacks in the beginning, but stick with it and you will help her overcome this and in return will be rewarded with an employee that is closer to reaching their full potential. 

As always…do not forget to celebrate the wins and hard work. Take the time to acknowledge her efforts; it will go a long way to build rapport. Be creative, make it personal, and always genuinely express gratitude. Acknowledging the efforts of your employees is one of the best ways to ensure they repeat the behavior in the future.

Thank you again for the question Nothing Sticks and Keep Moving Ideas to Action.


Do you have a problem and want to see if we can help? We would love to hear from you and help Move your Ideas to Action. Email us at: Info@bscorbettconsulting.com.

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