Employee Engagement: How to Own Your Work by Creating an Owner’s Manual

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Employee Engagement: How to Own Your Work by Creating an Owner’s Manual

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.” - Anonymous

Thelma, an executive assistant at a small manufacturing company, does her job. She goes to work, does what she is told, keeps her head down, enjoys her coworkers and waits until 4:30 to go home to her two children. It has never occurred to her to own her work. She gives her time to the company, and in return, she makes enough money to look after her family.

Does Thelma’s story resonate with you?

Many of us neglect to own our work, so the result is that our work seems to own us. We begrudgingly give it our time and our energy. Although we show up and offer our time to our organization, we feel like we are renting ourselves out for eight hours a day.

Most of us own items such as cars, houses, blenders and hot water tanks, but have you considered owning something much more valuable: your work? Ownership does not mean we have total control of all that happens but that we make an investment in our work and often receive a return from our engagement.

So, what’s the best way to start to own our work? I believe it’s through engagement. Engagement is the currency we “spend” to own our work.

Getting personal

Think about your own job and its responsibilities for a moment. What would it mean to own your work? Here are some statements that may indicate positive work ownership:

  • I look forward to going to work and work is very important in my life.
  • Work is more than a means to an end (wages/salary).
  • I feel in charge of what I do and how I experience work.
  • I have pride in my work.
  • There are times I think I should have to pay someone to be able to do the work I do because it’s so awesome.

The owner’s manual of YOU

If we apply the concept of ownership to work, consider the benefit of having an owner's manual. As we all know, an owner’s manual is an instructional book or booklet that is supplied with almost all technologically advanced consumer products such as vehicles, appliances and computers. It offers us instructions and knowledge about the product we now own.

Ivar Kroghrud, the lead strategist at QuestBack, created a user manual for his personal style of leadership. In a 2013 interview with Adam Bryant in the New York Times Corner Office column Ivar stated:

Ivar. I developed a one-page “user manual” so people can understand how to work with me.

Adam. Can you give some examples of what it says?

Ivar. I am patient, even-tempered and easygoing. I appreciate straight, direct communication. Say what you are thinking, and say it without wrapping your message. I am goal-oriented but have a high tolerance for diversity and openness to different viewpoints. So, again, say what you are thinking and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. I welcome ideas at any time, but I appreciate that you have real ownership of your idea and that you have thought it through in terms of total business impact.

It is a small step from a user manual to an owner’s manual. As opposed to an owner’s manual that is given to you by the organization on the first day of work, I believe we need to create our own manual. We even need to take ownership of creating a personalized owner’s manual for work.

Here are some sample items from my owner’s manual.

  • I am responsible for my own engagement but I know that I will interact with many other people and they will influence my engagement and experience.
  • I will check my personal engagement gauges (putting my engagement on a scale of 1 to 10 numerous times throughout the day) to monitor and adjust my experiences, contributions and overall well-being.
  • I will keep my attitudes towards work both polished and professional.
  • I will conduct regular self-maintenance activities ranging from mindfulness to reading to physical exercise. I believe that if I look after work, work will look after me.
  • Work is more than a means to an end. I will strive to go beyond simply making my mark at work to letting my work be a signature of who I am.

It’s your turn

Now it’s your chance to begin the first iteration of an owner’s manual for your work. Over the next few weeks, be aware of how you work best. At the end of each day, add and revise items that will help you keep the ownership of your work in the best shape possible. You may wish to pay attention to processes that are successful for you, hours in the day where you do your best work and the manner in which you like to communicate.

Let me leave you with this: we spend far too much time in the office to leave the ownership of our work in someone else’s hands.

“No one can come and claim ownership of my work. I am the creator of it, and it lives within me.” - Prince

2017 State of Employee Engagement: What HR Pros Need To Know

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2017 State of Employee Engagement: What HR Pros Need To Know

Get the data on what makes employees tick in 2017.


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