Whenever I was thinking about my life goals, the traits I’d like to develop, and how to build my personality, existence, work, and my life altogether, I’d always come to the same life principles:
- I want to break through.
I never want to lose my energy and leave my life to chance – from the simplest thing to those crucial matters – or forget them in the corner.
- I want to trust myself.
To mix my experience, intuition, and desire into the tastiest possible cocktail, as a solid foundation for the self-esteem I want to possess.
- I want others to see me as reliable.
Because if my image is mirrored in other people’s eyes, I must be doing something right.
- I don’t want my failures to take me to a dead end.
And not to let my mistakes turn into a mace that will shatter my dreams or become stumbling block(ade)s on my new walks.
Last, but not least:
- Never lose fire, zeal, and passion.
Everything is meaningless without these.
Indeed, the foundation and the pedestal on which we all should be standing, as partners or parents, as personalities or team members in our companies, encompass the same thing: an initiative for accountability, trust, creativity, and passion.
Therefore, this chapter of the Mibsters’ Culture Manifesto discusses ownership – perhaps the most prominent value we appreciate and exercise as a company.
What Is Ownership?
Ownership is that recipe that essentially always has the same base, but the taste of the meal changes according to the cook’s preferences. We put in some ingredients and leave out some spices, and sometimes it simmers for a longer time, but one thing is for sure: no matter how prepared, it’s always bloody delicious!
The feeling of ownership over something adds a special dimension to what we do, forming a unique approach to handling work tasks, people, results, and, most importantly, ourselves. It means feeling that we don’t need any particular incentive to swiftly remove the extra burden off our backs, throw away unnecessary clothes, and jump into the cold water to save the drowning man. Even though the guys from the opposite bank saw him, we were the first to take a dive; because we care.
The ownership culture and the employees’ perception of it differ from company to company. Still, the initial (and most important) assumption is the key to defining it: every employee should feel, carry out, and perceive work the way their CEO does.
It’s also the mindset within an organization by which every person completely controls and truly ‘possesses’ their project or task. This individual makes a promise and moves to the goal with that self-esteem and accountability. It’s primarily the accountability we feel towards other team members, where we organically build a sense of responsibility that the job is safe in the owner’s hands.
Eventually, it’s the accountability toward the end product. And the end product itself is vital for ownership. Mistakes are here, they happen, and they’re all right. It’ll be better next time.
In a nutshell, ownership characterizes people who know what they want and why they want it, the potential outcomes, and how it influences others; they’re the people who spark the initiative. They’re brave and completely confident that success hides right within their ideas. And if they’re wrong, everything is fine; let’s move on.
When Accountability Outperforms Itself.
Depending on the author, accountability might be interpreted as a synonym for ownership, as its integral part – a smaller one – or even as something completely different. Whatever the case, being accountable means taking responsibility for the product.
However, since ownership is a much more complex term, originating from the initiative (bringing loads of other things alongside) and picking up accountability only somewhere along the way, we’re more inclined toward a definition that elevates accountability to a more complex concept.
Within ownership, accountability doesn’t only refer to the outcome but also includes honesty and proactivity in communication. It’s the readiness to take in the possibility of failure – as an inevitable part of every risk. By being equally accountable for failure and success, we demonstrate awareness of the impact on our fellow team members, which, in turn, earns the colleagues’ respect, even if positive results are not achieved every single time. It clearly illustrates the link between accountability and trust, so many authors see this as integrity in its purest form.
When Challenge Isn’t a Synonym for Problem.
We often meet a viewpoint that problems should be referred to as challenges so that we become more determined to resolve them. Possessing ownership means constantly searching for actual challenges, and if there aren’t any on the horizon, to conceptualize and move toward them.
In other words: a company that wants to nurture ownership tries to turn every employee into a self-esteemed risk-taker who enjoys hunting challenges as if it’s a leisure activity.
Hey, Idea, Let’s Go Out and Play!
Many people have terrific ideas but sometimes end up in a maze or God-forsaken corner. People who embrace ownership always try to improve the circumstances even if it puts them in danger – they’re ready to face the circumstances of their acts head-on. They’re not afraid of judgments because they operate in an utterly supportive environment.
That’s why taking that idea out of the maze is of paramount importance, no matter how cozy it may feel in its comfort zone. A step out of that ‘your thing’ can easily be a step into new and fertile ground of ownership. A personal view of what success should look like will galvanize us stronger than that potion magique that Asterix drinks – because we’ve spiced it up with a bit of our vision. To top it all, we should always look at new questions with a fresh pair of eyes and suggest solutions different from those that failed, even though we might encounter a firm status quo or oppose some established opinions.
Nah, Someone Else Will Do It!
Might be. But ‘People who embrace ownership’ don’t make guesses. They don’t wait for others, even if the problem or obstacle is on someone else’s territory, because they care. They care about the solution and the final goal. Ownership means overcoming issues as soon as possible, not turning their heads away from problems, or expecting someone else to react.
Quite the opposite: people who take ownership often surpass the expectations and the frameworks of their tasks because the passion that drives them sometimes makes them go the extra mile.
“It’s My Company, Too!”
I’ve read one of the most exciting ownership stories in a Forbes article from 2017. One Saturday morning, Steven, a shift manager at Tasty Catering notices that one of his employees loads the cargo for Indiana into a truck for Wisconsin. He shouted as his colleague: “What’s wrong with you?! How stupid are you?!” A kitchen worker, Hugo, was one of the few people who heard this conversation. He stopped working and turned to Steven: “Hey, Steven, number 2!” while pointing his finger at a big poster on the warehouse wall. It was a poster with company values neatly numbered for easier reference. The value No. 2 on the poster was “Treat everyone with respect.” Steven realized what he’d done, quickly changed his attitude, and apologized to his colleague.
Still, Tom Walter – the company CEO – saw the entire incident. He approached Hugo, thanked him, and offered him a $20 bill. Hugo looked at the bill, then at Tom, only to tell him: “Tom, this is my company, too.”
This story has become legendary in Tasty Catering and beyond. The company has been regarded as one of the best small US businesses, received many rewards, and has become a symbol of a successful ownership story.
We All Own the Marbles.
At BrightMarbles, we invest all our efforts to let people take their tasks into their own hands in the way they think is best possible. We know we’re on the road to effective ownership when we:
- Do our job with passion and commitment.
- Put the big picture before our personal interests.
- Try to communicate as transparently as possible at every single moment.
- Talk out loud about our mistakes and advocate other people’s opinions with equal enthusiasm.
- Set new goals again and again.
- Respect other people’s opinions and ‘push’ toward the goal as if it’s our own objective because IT IS OURS – we all own it.
We become aware that we’re doing an excellent job with ownership when we find ourselves caring deeply about the quality of our performance; when we feel proud of the result; when we know that our contribution matters; when we make new mistakes rather than repeat the old ones;
In a word, when we own both success and failure – that’s it, that’s ownership with a capital O!
For all the above, we at BrightMarbles think it’s essential that every individual may feel like an owner because we sincerely believe that true ownership spawns all other company values that we nurture as a company, and as a group of individuals:
- Personal and business improvement, together with the awareness of personal capacities.
- A continuous self-confidence boost.
- Transparent communication.
- Inclusion of others in our projects, and
- An unparalleled desire for a positive outcome.
We couldn’t be more convinced that the entire team will be stronger if we empower each team member with ownership. If everyone expresses their finest idea and gives their best self, we’ll lift creativity and innovation to the highest possible level.
We develop the ownership culture in the company because we live it even outside it by encouraging different opinions, voices, and words, i.e., diversity. Finally, in people we trust and, hence, offer them to express their best selves.
Because only if we all own our tasks to the skies will BrightMarbles keep shining as the brightest rock in the IT universe.
Svetlana Kosic is a Marketing and Sales expert with over 12 years of experience in the IT industry. She’s a former radio and TV journalist, magazine editor, and team leader, and she’s interviewed numerous CEOs of the largest IT companies in the world. She’s also a skilled negotiator who fights against the stereotype that only men in suits can make a good deal—and almost met the real Santa Claus.