As I was preparing for a seminar on strategic planning, I came across a number of articles on why strategic plans and planning initiatives often fail. One of the primary reasons, it appears, is a lack of ownership among the rank and file; the people who will actually be responsible for executing the plan. In other words, they are not wedded to the initiatives that are in play.

Ownership is critical, and many organizations, in the rush to make things happen, either forget or just decide not to take the time to build ownership.

In almost all instances this is a critical failure.

The importance of ownership can be summed up by answering this question: When was the last time you took a rental car to the car wash?

The odds are high that you never have.


Because you won’t own the car. There is pride in ownership.

I suspect that ownership matters more than most of us can ever imagine.

Oddly, building ownership is not that difficult as long as you begin early and follow a few basic steps.

First, make sure the people responsible for executing the strategy or initiative are involved in its creation. A VP I worked for once told me, “If you don’t involve me in the takeoffs I won’t be around for the crash landings.” Bingo.

Second, clarify roles and responsibilities early. People need to know what roles they will play and why.

Third, clarify the cost of initiative failure. It is important that everyone understand the consequences of failure.

Fourth, communicate often. People need to know that progress is being made.

Fifth, don’t reward passivity. Ordinarily, I would say reward performance, but a big problem in HE is a reward system that treats everyone the same regardless of what they do, or don’t. My dad was an economist, and he often told me, “If you want to change a behavior, change the reward system.” Bingo again.

Finally, celebrate wins. Change makes people nervous and even those who feel an ownership for the initiative need to have their commitments affirmed. One of the best ways is to show people the successes that are accruing.

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