Taking Ownership

888487-largeWe often talk about ownership regarding tasks at work. “He’s not taking ownership..” or “Alex, you have to take ownership and drive this..” but what does it really mean, and why doesn’t it happen?

Seems there’s a better definition of ownership – accountability. There are various ways to define it, but the clearest seems to be about making a conscious choice to do all that you can to make something happen.

This is adapted from the book the Oz Principle which articulates the principles of accountability pretty clearly:

  1. See It
  2. Own It
  3. Solve It
  4. Do It

To truly take ownership, or more importantly, be accountable you need to do all four of these things for a task which you consciously (and not begrudgingly) accept. A way to retrospectively check if you did this is to ask yourself “What more could I have done?” Or better still, once you’ve taken on a task, ask yourself “What more can I do?”

This breaks the cycle of blame. How do I avoid taking ownership, being accountable? The Oz Principle lists “below the line” behaviors such as I didn’t know, I told them about it, they didn’t deliver, that wasn’t my job, you didn’t tell me to do that, and more. All of these being symptomatic of a lack of ownership and engagement – it wasn’t my fault it didn’t happen!

I see this happening at work. But how to prevent it? When I see it in others I think it’s because of two things:

a) They don’t believe in the task. This is for a number of reasons – they think it will change, they don’t know why it’s important, they don’t think it’s right, etc. As a manager, I need to make sure I’ve spent time explaining how this fits into our strategy and why it’s critical that we do it this way, right now.

b) They already have too much to do. This is more difficult as in our industry we invariably have more projects than people and issues with prioritization.  For engineers, they should take personal responsibility (..er, accountability..) for their estimates. Their lead should give them feedback retrospectively so that their estimation skills can improve. The lead should give them one task at a time so they can focus, and understand that clear priorities are the best way to keep people happy.

How about managers though? They are often handling their own task list with vague priorities and with too much to do focus is a real challenge. For sure, delegating and following up on the tasks we delegate is one way but more importantly, only take on tasks that we can take ownership of. If we as managers cannot do what we say we will do, they how can expect our teams to do the same.

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