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Again this week, I thank you for being here! Let’s talk today about psychological ownership and its implications for companies exposed to high volatility.
If you’re a Formula One driver, during your first few races you’ll see yourself simply as someone driving a high-performance car. As the weeks go by, your efforts and time invested will make you feel like you own the car. Without realizing it, your mind takes over the car, the goals, the strategy, and everything that could affect your future—even if the car isn’t yours and you’re just an employee of the brand.
Without realizing it, your mind takes over the car, the goals, the strategy, and everything that could affect your future
Psychologists refer to this as psychological ownership. It comes about because individuals invest time and effort, contribute creatively, make decisions, and learn from what they do. If you’re a leader, you probably psychologically own the phases of the products, their successes, and their impact. You feel a strong sense of responsibility and expect others to show the same commitment.
Until 2001, not many people had thought that there was a link between psychological ownership and organizational success. From then on, many researchers began to conduct studies in companies. But I’d like to take it a step further and relate the concept of psychological ownership to agile, digital, and exponential companies.
For example, software developers may take ownership of lines of code, modules they’re particularly proud of, a software infrastructure they’ve developed, or a process or tool. This psychological pattern can occur even when the company clearly states that work produced during work hours is company property.
Software developers may take ownership of lines of code, modules they’re particularly proud of, a software infrastructure they’ve developed, or a process or tool
This ownership is a significant benefit to the company. This is because it allows employees to feel proud and advance their careers by creating excellent products:
We already know that psychological ownership is a key factor for any organization because of its positive effects in the medium and long term. It also contributes to making the results of a change contagious.
In some organizations, many practices often used significantly reduce psychological ownership due to management style and excessive control (command and control), resulting in employees having to ask permission or seek approval to perform their tasks.
In these cases, many avoid participation and don’t strive for continuous process improvement. They simply do their jobs as prescribed and adhere to the 9-to-5 workday.
There are other cases where people fall in love with their creations but the company needs to phase them out.
There are other cases where people fall in love with their creations but the company needs to phase them out. This can be a problem in organizations exposed to constant market disruptions. Here, it is expected for people to create solutions they can be proud of, but are forced to discard them within a few months or weeks.
Remember… individuals place twice as much value on something they already own. How would you feel if you were told to give up everything you’ve worked so hard for?
Here the work Ownership Culture Survey (OCS) has done is of crucial importance. The results of their study on cultures in companies showed that employees consider fairness to be the most important factor in the company, and this increases psychological participation.
Employees consider fairness to be the most important factor in the company, and this increases psychological ownership
Fairness means that everyone is treated fairly, with reasonable rules, without favoring certain people. In the same study, the second most important factor was a sense of community—the connection between peers. The third most important factor was the opportunity for active participation—being able to voice your opinion and be involved in decisions.
Have you ever considered these factors in your company?
If you don’t have these values (fairness, community, and participation) in your organization, it would be a good idea to consider them.
One practice you can use as a leader or change consultant is to conduct specific sessions to make these values visible. You can use games and role-playing to help people discover and develop a plan for detachment with a positive attitude.
I like the idea of holding celebrations when a new change plan is implemented or in the product launch phase. Here we explicitly praise what’s left behind and congratulate those who were involved.
I hope this introduction to this exciting topic was useful to you!
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By Omer Hashmi
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