There’s a child’s game called Button Factory. It’s a simple song and dance activity designed to tap into children’s energy. The lyrics follow a man named Joe who works – you guessed it – in a button factory. The song starts off with his boss asking him to push a button with his right hand, then left, then with his elbow, then his knee. Whoever’s leading the song picks different ways to press the buttons, and the song ends when the corresponding motions get too ridiculous. Depending on the version, Joe either stops accepting new tasks or simply quits.
There are a number of problems with the business model in Button Factory – surely asking a single employee to press so many buttons in such ridiculous ways suggests a staffing issue at the least – but one of the biggest concerns with the button factory’s culture is lack of employee ownership. No one tells Joe why he’s pressing the buttons; he never gets any indication for how his work impacts the company. He’s simply given a task and asked to believe in it on principle. If the button factory focused on employee ownership, Joe would get a lot more out of his job and the factory would be able to get a lot more out of him.
Don’t let your company be a button factory. Here are three ways you can improve engagement by promoting the employee ownership culture:
Embrace ownership culture
“70% of American employees aren’t engaged at work.”
Gallop’s State of the American Workplace report shows 70 percent of American employees aren’t engaged at work. This is a serious problem, as low employee engagement is linked to poor productivity, high turnover and general workplace negativity. If your company embraces ownership culture, however, you’re likely to find a big boost in your employee’s engagement levels. Ownership culture exists in a business when employees feel they have direct control over their outcomes. This means everyone from the bottom up gets to see how the company is improving, as well as how their work fits into that growth.
Establishing clear and open performance management practices is one approach to developing an ownership culture. When employees can track their own progress toward the company’s goals and results, they have firsthand knowledge of what their work really does.
This flies in the face of the top-down, need-to-know attitude that permeates modern business culture, but you should consider that a good thing. After all, Joe needs to know why he’s pushing the buttons – it would make him care. It could also help him prioritize. If Joe understands the left-hand button only needs to be pressed once a day, he can put a lot more effort toward the more vital knee button.
Build an atmosphere of trust
The single biggest step you can take to build ownership culture in your company is to trust your employees’ judgment. If someone has an idea for improving a process, let them give it a try. It might not work perfectly, but you’ve still gained valuable insight. However, before employees can start bringing you brilliant ideas, they need to know they can. If Joe’s button factory manager had let him know he was open to upward management and new ideas, things may have gone differently. Joe might have felt comfortable telling his manager about his button automation plan. Before you know it, Joe might not need to work with buttons at all – he could free up time for tricker tasks like knobs and levers, and he can do a lot more for the company as a result.