Is ownership the problem?

How do you motivate staff, do money and perks still cut it?  Or is possibly setting up your employees in their own entrepreneurial system a better way?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the issues of retaining highly motivated and intelligent staff within knowledge intensive firms such as IT or consulting.  Seems to me that the attrition based management of hire-lots-of-people-work-them-hard-and-the-people-that-don’t-burn-out-must-be-management-material isn’t really the basis of an outstanding business (clearly it does work to an extent, PwC has about 135,000 accountants globally), and I honestly think it’s going to float even less in the future.

But what are the alternatives to running a company based on the churn-and-burn policy?  I personally think that the doesn’t have a simple solution, where you can somehow motivated your staff through measures that may have worked in the past (money, training, perks).  I really think that traditional organisational structures, where a pyramid of progressively more well paid individuals work away under a small pool of owners is not the most effective way to build a company.

Where I think organisations should be going in the future, is thinking about their organisation from a question of ownership, actually thinking about how they motivate employees by giving some part of their company to their employees, and go into business with them directly as partners rather than employing them as subordinates and waiting for them to get a better offer.  This is a view that is somewhat mirrored in the interesting WSJ article The End of Management, and also in the great Richard Koch book the 80-20 Revolution.  A future point of differentiation may be that organisations become excellent at finding ways of reversing ownership in through development of spin-outs, Joint Ventures, intrapreneurship or any number of mechanisms.

There’s a lot more to be said about ownership strategy (or maybe anti-ownership) and the consequences that will arise in organisations, I think I’ll write a little more on this in the future, but if anyone has any inputs on looking at ownership as competitive advantage, I’d love to hear about it.