Assuming Responsibility and Taking Ownership at Work

Lesson Progress:

Seeing Opportunities to Make a Difference

From: Vincent Lopez, Director Human Resources
To: Learning Lot Employees

Greetings All,

I wanted to share an inspiring story that serves as another reminder of the incredible heart and passion our Learning Lot team possesses.

As some of you know, our Dallas office is located in an old warehouse district. On the same block, there is an old convenience store that has been closed for several years. Over the past year, the small parking lot for the store has become a popular playground for local kids.

Unfortunately, it’s also a place where people toss empty bottles and other trash. It also has dangerous rebar ends sticking up from the concrete in several places.

One of our Dallas employees, Serena Carson, walked by the vacant store every day on her way to and from the office. She watched the kids playing there and wondered what she could do to make it safer.

She began by recruiting two other employees from the Data Services team, Lawson Barnes and Felicia García, and they took turns sweeping the old parking lot and picking up trash every morning and afternoon.

Jerry Marsden, one of our Marketing and Sales team members, heard about what they were doing and asked what he could do to help. After talking to Serena, he contacted the owner of the property and asked for permission to have the dangerous rebar cut and filled. After gaining the necessary permission, Jerry contacted a local concrete services company, which was more than happy to donate its time and equipment to take care of the problem.

The group didn’t stop there. They noticed the kids often played makeshift games of soccer on the lot. Working with the kids, the team designed a fun soccer zone and got permission from the property owner to paint lines for their games and store two portable goals on the property.

Now, every morning, someone from the team cleans up the parking lot and puts out the portable goals, and every evening, another team member puts the goals away and cleans up any new trash.

Someone saw a problem. Someone took ownership of the problem. And then, working together with a few others, someone solved the problem.

It’s S-O-S. It’s also an example of the great people that work at The Learning Lot.


Learn More About It


Read: Becoming an “Owner”

What Does it Mean to Take Ownership at Work?

DecorativeTaking ownership at work means doing more than just the list of things you are assigned to do each day. It means constantly being on the lookout for “what else” needs to be done or “how else” you can help your team or company improve.

It means making it YOUR mission to make each task, your team, and your company successful.

It means not waiting for others to take care of things.

It means not throwing problems over the fence so they become someone else’s problem to worry about.

It means being committed to seeing things through. If you find something you can’t fix or solve, you should track down the person who can fix it, and make sure they take care of it.

Being Responsible and Taking Ownership at Work

Employers, company leaders, and managers want to hire and promote employees who are willing to take ownership at work.


One reason is that without employees who are willing to take ownership at work, important tasks don’t get done, projects are often late, and the quality of company products decline. This translates to unhappy customers and companies that are likely to fail.

Another reason companies want to hire people who are willing to take ownership is that they make great employees who care about their work. Employees who take ownership aren’t satisfied with just showing up and collecting a paycheck; they strive to constantly improve and help their teammates and the company succeed. Employees who take ownership want to make things better.

Seven Steps to “Owning” Your Job

If you want to assume responsibility and take ownership at work, just follow these seven steps.

1. Start Small — Starting small is important if taking ownership at work isn’t something you do naturally. So, don’t start by trying to take ownership of everything at work. Begin by simply doing everything you can to take ownership of yourself and your own performance.

Show up to work early everyday. Don’t leave work until you’ve finished everything assigned to you for the day. Make sure that everything you do is your absolute best work. If you aren’t sure if your work is meeting your manager’s expectations, ask for feedback and let them know you are committed to doing quality work.

2. Make it Personal — Taking ownership at work means seeing your tasks or projects as things that belong to you and not to someone else. This makes everything you do personal. Every action you individually take is a reflection of you and your character. You take pride in every service and product your company offers, and it bothers you when things don’t get done right or when customers complain.

3. See Opportunities Everywhere — An employee who takes ownership regularly notices things that could be done to help improve the company, its services, and its products. Such things can range from replacing a broken stapler, throwing out trash in the conference room, noticing customers that aren’t being helped, or brainstorming processes that can be improved. Taking ownership at work means actively looking out for these scenarios and doing everything you can to address them or point them out to someone else who can help.

Decorative4. Don’t Wait — Taking responsibility means assuming personal ownership of problems and situations and not waiting for someone else to take care of them. If you see it, you own it. If you own it, you make it your mission to find a solution and see it through.

5. Take Initiative — When you see a problem or something that can be improved, never be afraid to show initiative and take ownership. If it’s something small, fix it and let your manager or co-worker know what you did (not to take credit for it, but so they will be aware of what has been done). If you see a bigger problem or process that can be improved, come up with a solution and propose it to your manager. This will help everyone be more successful.

6. Think About Others — As you begin taking action to solve problems and make improvements, remember to think about the impact your actions may have on your co-workers or your manager. When in doubt, reach out to the people who may be affected and get their input. Seeing and solving problems is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with others and learn more about their strengths.

7. Learn from Your Results — Finally, taking ownership at work means owning the outcome of everything you do and learning from your results. This will allow you to contribute in new ways. Keep track of your successes as well as your failures. Get feedback from your co-workers and managers. Find ways to improve and to measure your success.

Remember, ownership of every success, big or small, is something to celebrate. Every failure, big or small, is something to worry about. A few exceptional employees take every aspect of their job personally and are instinctively driven to achieve excellence.

Reflect: Taking Responsibility


Expand: Owning vs. Renting

A good way to understand what it means to take ownership at work is to think about the difference between owning and renting.

There’s a huge difference between renting something and owning something.

If you rent something, like a tool you need for a specific job, you know that you will only be using it for a period of time. When you no longer need it, you give it back. You’re not responsible for taking care of the tool.

The same is true if you rent an apartment. You use it for six months or a year, and then you give it back. If something breaks, it’s someone else’s problem to fix. If the carpet gets dirty or the paint is scuffed, no need to worry. The owner will simply clean the carpet or repaint the walls before renting it to someone else. None of these things are your responsibility because you don’t own the apartment. You’re just renting it.

DecorativeWhen you don’t own an object you may make different decisions about it than you would if you did own it. For example, if you’re renting an apartment and someone decides to throw a party you may be more than happy to volunteer your place for the event. What’s the harm if some food or drink is spilled on the carpet? So what if someone makes a mark on the living room wall? It’s not yours. You don’t have to fix it.

Owning something, on the other hand, feels different than renting. When you own something, it’s truly yours. It’s yours to take care of. It it breaks, you have to fix or replace it. If it gets dirty, you have to clean it.

Most importantly, people take pride in the things they own. They want them to be as nice as possible and they do everything in their power to keep them that way.

Many employees go to work every day and act as if they are renting things; it’s not their company, after all. They are just “renting” everything there in order to do their job, however long that lasts.

Great employees think and act like owners. They take pride in their work and also in the work of their team. They clean up public work spaces, even if it’s not solely their job, because they are “owners” and want things to look nice. When they see problems, they fix them because that’s what owners do.

Activity:  Try It Out


What Would You Do?

Read the following scenario and then make a decision about what you would do. Each decision you make will present you with a consequence related to your actions. When there are no more decisions to make, you have reached the end of the scenario, and can then “Submit” your responses.

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Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Rob Reynolds, Ph.D. for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA

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