By Andrew McConnell, co-founder and CEO of Rented.com.
It is well-proven that each person in the average couple overestimates his or her individual contribution to things like household responsibilities. If surveyed separately as to what percentage of the work each does, when you sum the percent each gives, the total inevitably exceeds 100 percent. But this is not just a problem for couples.
As Susan T. Fiske says in Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology:
The self-centered bias--both people thinking they contributed more to a joint project than the other person thinks they did--occurs for married couples estimating their individual contributions to household responsibilities, students taking responsibility for ideas generated in a team's psychological assessment, basketball players owning responsibility for an important turning point in a game...
This natural human tendency has important implications for how your employees perceive their work and their place in your company, and a better understanding of this can help you keep them motivated and energized.
Let's take an objective example, if such a thing exists, and say theoretically some new initiative in your company was the result of the ideas generated by three different people and the execution of 10 others. In such a scenario, every single person if asked individually would naturally overestimate his or her contribution to the initiative. The three responsible for the idea each would take credit for far more than 33.3 percent of the idea, and of the ten different people who executed that idea equally, not one would assess her own work to be 10 percent or less of the total.
In many cases, attribution may not be important. Maybe people are fine moving on to the next thing. I, however, would posit that is rarely the case: Humans are far more motivated when we feel strong ownership and responsibility for something. If someone feels she is only 10 percent part of an idea or a plan, her intrinsic motivation to see that plan come to fruition, the pride she will take in executing that plan, and the blood and sweat she will put into making that plan a success are far lower than if she believes she has a majority ownership of it.
Given this fact, and the knowledge that your employees will overestimate their own contributions, what do you do? How do you ensure they still feel ownership and pride, even when their actual contribution to any given initiative is less than what they imagine? The answer is simple: Disavow any credit for yourself, regardless of your role.
This may seem odd, but follow me. Knowing up front that each person will overestimate his or her own contributions and how difficult they were, and how demotivating it would be to get people to see the "reality" of the situation, the easiest and the most effective path is to take your own percentage out of the total. In many cases, this should leave more than enough room for everyone to not only feel the ownership they conceive in their own minds already but may even leave room for them to feel even greater ownership and responsibility. As President Harry S. Truman taught us: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."
As the leader of the business, this is invaluable. Why would you ever care who gets credit? Isn't your mission, your purpose, your objective far larger than that? Aren't you trying to accomplish something far bigger and far more important than point scoring at the tactical level?
You care about the destination; credit for how you get there is meaningless. Give the wins to your team members and take ownership of the failures, and your journey to that ultimate destination will be smoother, swifter, and far more enjoyable.
Andrew McConnell is the co-founder and CEO of Rented.com.