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Creating Psychological Ownership Is Key for Success with External Workforce

3 minute read

Sara Daw, Co-Founder and Group CEO of The CFO Centre Group and The Liberti Group, and Author, discusses why there is a need to create psychological ownership to succeed with an external workforce.

Demands to fill new skill shortages have led to a shift in today’s workforce. While a company’s labour used to consist mainly of full-time employees, we are now seeing businesses relying on individuals or groups who aren’t permanent employees of an organization but work with them on a temporary or contract basis to fulfil specific skills gaps or projects.

While not employed, this external workforce can be a valuable addition to a company's workforce if leaders can properly integrate them into the business.

A challenge facing businesses with the external workforce is that the relationship between the business and external employees can sometimes be uncaring as they have traditionally been seen as only being of temporary use. The introduction of psychological ownership can help bridge this gap to move the working relationship into an enduring one which provides long-term value.


To create a sense of psychological ownership, there needs to be three key motivates in place: efficacy, self-identity, and having a place:

Efficacy – For psychological ownership to emerge both the business leaders and the external workforce need to understand each other’s needs, feel knowledgeable about the range of services offered, and be confident that the service and relationship are working to meet that desired goal.

Self-Identity – Possessions contribute to our sense of identity and self-definition. People use ownership to define themselves, express self-identity to others, and ensure the continuity of the self across time. In this context, the external workforce and business need to work together with shared identities and use them to establish and contribute to their own identities, fostering feelings of psychological ownership.

Having a Place – All individuals desire to have a particular territory or place for belonging. Working together enables the external workforce and business to be part of a group of like-minded people, contributing to their feelings of psychological ownership towards each other.


There are three major routes to building psychological ownership in relationships.

Firstly, there is the extent to which the client and external workforce can control and access each other, as this impacts the feeling of ownership. This can include how accessible, approachable, and available they each find each other.

Secondly, the more information and intimate knowledge the client and external workforce have of each other, the deeper the relationship between them and the stronger feelings of psychological ownership.

Finally, it is about personal investment, this could come in the form of time, skills, and ideas – the more investment someone has made into a role or project, the more they will feel connected to it.


The external workforce is growing – an example gaining traction is businesses turning to accessing, rather than employing, their C-Suite on a fractional or part-time basis giving them the skills to scale.

The success of these relationships is ultimately down to the implementation of psychological ownership, and when both parties work together to make this happen a relationship develops where the C-level talent is right beside the business owner every step of the way, walking with them in their shoes. They believe in them, they guide, they challenge (appropriately), and they pick them up when they’ve suffered setbacks, so they are ready to go again. This is the true value.

Access economy C-Suite executives who are competent at developing the key components of Psychological Ownership can outlast and outperform employment relationships. Partnerships with businesses which prioritise common goals, shared identities, and feelings of belonging - all carefully developed through responsiveness, intimacy, collaboration, and creating psychological safety - can last the course and deliver a far more tailored and fit-for-purpose, flexible solution that organisations today can’t afford to do without. Ultimately, having access to the complete range of functional, emotional, and collective intelligence at the C-suite level in this way will create a more sustainable future for businesses.

By Sara Daw, Co-Founder and Group CEO of The CFO Centre Group and The Liberti Group

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