Accountability vs. Ownership

How to hear and say less the phrase: “That’s not my job”? The key lies in the concept of psychological ownership.

The article by Gustavo Razzetti refers to the difference between two very similar concepts: Accountability and Ownership.

In fact, accountability and responsibility result from psychological ownership. A sense of psychological ownership is when you feel a personal responsibility for the outcome.

If you want people from your team to go above and beyond – holding them accountable for certain tasks is not enough. Build a team culture where people feel they own their work!


The difference between being accountable and feeling that you own your work


I’m accountable:

  • I’m held responsible for fulfilling my duties and responsibilities
  • my accountability is defined by others (the organization/my manager)
  • when I finish my tasks and the target is hit – I put the brakes on and go with the flow
  • I am only excited to achieve the month’s metrics set as indicators for my work
  • I only do what is part of my duties and nothing more
  • I’m not concerned with doing the most useful and right thing for the overall team goal
  • I see “trash” (small or big problem) but I don’t care to “pick it up” because “that’s not my job”
  • I only do what is measured and rewarded
  • I only focus on deadlines and milestones


The implementation of accountability systems is still appropriate when leading young people – juniors with still little experience, or when your team needs micromanagement.


I feel that own my work:

  • this sense is not imposed on me, it is intrinsic
  • I don’t care about just hitting the metrics – I go the extra mile
  • I do whatever it takes to achieve the team’s goals
  • I don’t need external pressure to do my tasks
  • I don’t wait for someone to tell me what to do
  • I’m not the owner of the project, but I care about my role and responsibilities
  • I feel in charge
  • I am excited about the big picture, not just the little pieces of it
  • I feel that I belong to my company/project – for example, I call them “mine”
  • I am autonomous to decide how I will achieve the goals
  • I have the information to make decisions
  • I know not just “what” I’m doing, but “why” I’m doing it
  • I’m committed to the overall outcome and the long-term results


Building an ownership mentality is appropriate when leading senior specialists with extensive experience and people with great potential.


The key ingredient to making your people feel they own their work


A team culture of ownership is the result of your people having meaningful work with a clear purpose.
Don’t focus solely on metrics and indicators, because that way your people will only focus on short-term results and act in a piece-by-piece manner.

It should be clear to everyone on your team WHAT results you’re seeking and which peak you’re aiming to climb together, but before that, it’s much more important that they understand WHY they need to climb it.


Ways to build a team culture of ownership


1️⃣ Show the big picture of your overall work. Take the time and effort to tell each person on your team what the impact of their work is. Visualize the impact of their work.

2️⃣ Your people must have the freedom, information, and authority to make decisions – Hari from our gang has a comic strip inspired by Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”.

3️⃣ Reward collaborative behavior, not just indicators and metrics.

4️⃣ Appreciate the behavior that helps achieve key team goals.

5️⃣ Don’t transfer the work of those who are not doing well to the ones doing well.

6️⃣ Allow your people to autonomously decide how to achieve results.


To summarize:


If you limit your people only to their small tasks and measure only the metrics – your people will not go above and beyond.

Building an ownership mentality is key for your people to move from passive behavior (“That’s not my job!”) to proactive behavior related to commitment to the organization and long-term results (“I feel own my work”).

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