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From the Desk of HR - 4 Questions to Ask When Nobody Takes Ownership

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Everybody Somebody Anybody Nobody Everybody Somebody Anybody Nobody Photo by June Intharoek from Pexels / Words added by Lori Narewski

Have you ever been in a situation where there was a job to be done, but no one did it? No one stepped up to the plate and made it happen. Then everyone started pointed fingers and blaming everyone else for the failure.

Take a moment and ask why this happened. What could have been done to make sure the job was completed? Was it that everyone thought someone else would take care of it? Was there a lack of leadership, clarity, or communication of who was to do what? Was is it similar to Charles’ Osgood’s “The Responsibility Poem?”

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”


The next time there’s an important job, task, or project to get done, asking a few questions will help assess how to make sure everything gets done.  Whether you’re a manager or a team member, taking time to answer these questions at the beginning, and throughout, can save valuable time and headaches.


Question #1: Do individuals possess the necessary skills or experience?

Osgood’s poem states, “Anybody could have done it.” But could they? Or was it an assumption that everyone had the necessary skills to complete the job.

When given a task, employees may be hesitant to admit they lack the ability to do the job well, especially if it’s been assumed that they do. Ben Brearly, in “4 Reasons Why Your Team Members Won’t Take Responsibility,” mentions “I’ve seen situations where leaders tell others they are responsible for tasks that are unfamiliar.”

Discuss with team members the obstacles they may face with the job. Ask them if they feel prepared to take on all that is being asked. If they lack a skillset, discuss how they can gain the necessary skills to succeed. Create a plan with them and encourage them to take the risk. (Refer to the question below “How is the fear of failure limiting the success of an individual?”)

Make sure they feel supported – whether they have the skills or need to stretch themselves professionally. This leads us to the next question.


Question #2: Does everyone have the support they need to succeed?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when tackling a project? You knew you had the ability, but not enough time. Perhaps you needed someone to bounce ideas off of, but there was no one available. Did you run into obstacles that required assistance, but there was none available? Even individuals with the skills needed require support at times.

Find out how you can help your team members succeed on their upcoming assignments – don’t assume they don’t need anything. Ask what they need this time, that they didn’t receive previously. Think about the type of regular positive and constructive feedback you, or someone else, can provide the team, regarding their progress. Don’t leave them all alone, feeling as if when issues arise there will be nowhere to turn.

Then continue to ask more questions. Questions about their own goals and career interests.


Question #3: Does the employee have interest in this type of work?

It’s a fact, most people will not like every aspect of their job. However, if the majority of work does not align to one’s career interests and goals, a lack of motivation and commitment can occur. If someone is simply putting in time for the paycheck, but has little to no passion for what they are doing, chances are good the final results will be impacted – and not in a positive way.

Brearly states, “We can’t always provide work that excites and motivates everybody. But the better you understand the goals and aspirations of your team members, the greater chance you have of getting them to step up and take on responsibility.”

Think of a time when you had to do something you hated. Now think about a challenge you did that you enjoyed. Which situation were you more committed and motivated while doing? When someone has interest in a project, they’re more willing to take ownership, making sure it is completed – successfully!

Get to know your employees and teammates. Learn what their skills and interests are. Find out how they want to expand their knowledge and abilities? What projects will allow them to do this? Where can their strengths be best used? Use this knowledge when deciding who to place on which assignment, whenever possible.

You may discover the teammate actually does have the skills and the interest to succeed, but realize they have an underlying fear of failure. This leads to the last question.


Question #4: Is the fear of failure hindering success?

Even if an individual has the skills and abilities, they may lack self-confidence – they may have an unrealistic fear of not being able to complete the task successfully. Failure, or fear of failure, can be demobilizing. It can cause someone to not try, to not take ownership. A person may subconsciously avoid a task so as to avoid an even greater failure.

Take a few minutes to read Mindtool’s article Overcoming Fear of Failure: Facing Your Fear of Moving Failure to better understand the impact a fear of failure can have on success and how to change conquer that fear.

When something doesn’t get done, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that people were being obstinate, lazy, or not team players. But there may be other reasons, ones that when addressed will encourage employees to jump in, take ownership, and get the job done. By holding conversations, observing employees’ strengths and weaknesses, and encouraging them to stretch themselves and conquer their fears, there’s a greater the chance everybody will get the job done – the one that anybody could have done.

The next time you have a project and sense “The Responsibility Poem” is about to happen, start asking questions. Don’t assume somebody else is going to do it. And most importantly… communicate! (Which is a topic for another blog.)

What other questions can you ask to ensure success on your next project?

Written by Lori Narewski

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