September 9, 2013

Doing something vs. owning something

From an All Company email to Logos…

Someone interviewing for a job recently asked me, “What’s the most important thing for being successful at Logos?”

My answer: ownership.

There’s a big difference between ‘doing something’ and ‘owning something.’

Doing things is very important, and very useful. When stuff gets done, we move ahead — products are created, projects are finished, things are shipped, customers are satisfied. I love it when someone gets things done.

But what I love even more is when someone owns things.

An example:

When my wife and I got married, we quickly agreed that taking out the trash was my responsibility.

We brought different expectations to this task, however. Being an efficiency expert (that’s code for ‘lazy around the house’), I believed that the right time to take out the trash was when the trash can was completely full. And not just ‘full’, but ‘full and I pushed it down a few times before adding more.’ This minimized trips from the kitchen to the garbage can and — green bonus! — minimized use of plastic trash bags.

My wife believed that the trash should be emptied a lot more often. Before weekly trash pickup, even if the kitchen can isn’t full. After disposing of smelly garbage or tuna fish cans. Any time you’d have to press it down to fit more in.

So I had to be ‘assigned’ the task of taking out the trash 100% of the time, since she wanted it taken out more often than I naturally would. And I took it out, as assigned. I got it done. I believed that my job performance was 100% satisfactory in this area. And, technically, it was.

I was an idiot, and not moving ahead very quickly in the ‘husband’ career track.

Skipping forward 20 years of marriage (and the very instructive period during which I was the task-assigner and my son the assignee), I now do things differently.

I empty the can if I can see trash near the top. I empty it after every meal prep. I empty it if fish was present or even discussed in the kitchen. I put a new bag in before the old bag goes out the door. I double-bag messy / smelly bags. I take the recyclables out too, and then I rinse any drips from cans and bottles before putting the bin back in the kitchen.

I own taking out the trash.

And as a result (of this and more) I’ve been promoted to higher-rank in the husband department.

When I took out the trash every time it was assigned, my wife could never stop thinking about the trash. Even though I took it out, I only did so in response to her. She had to own keeping the kitchen looking neat, preventing fish smells from permeating the house, etc. I was getting things done, but not really taking any of the mental / organizational responsibility away from her. I wasn’t making things much easier around the house. I did stuff, but still had to be supervised — closely!

Owning something is doing the task, thinking broadly about the task, dealing with the unexpected challenges a task presents, and making sure no one else ever has to think about that task again. When people own things, other people are freed to give more time and energy to the tasks they own. We can all get more done and grow even faster.

Everybody here already owns things. There are dozens of things you just take care of and nobody has to think about. (Thank you!) But do you own everything you touch? Do you stretch your abilities? Do you consciously work to ensure that when you’re done there won’t be a hole, a bug, an issue that wasn’t considered or an unexpected problem?

When you take on a task, are your co-workers and supervisors secure in never thinking about it again?

It’s great to get things done. But if you want to grow and be really successful — if you want to be the person called on to lead a new project, to take on a new responsibility, to get promoted and put in charge and sent to negotiate the deal all alone — then ownership is the key.

Comments

  1. Absolutely agree with this; there are people at work that I know I can delegate a project to and then not worry about checking in every few weeks/days and… then, there are the others. The people I don’t need to worry about following every last detail are the people that I naturally want to promote or naturally want to draw in even closer to my trusted leadership group.

  2. This is really simple and yet profound. Thanks for the article, I found it very helpful. You did an excellent job of clearly depicting what “owning” something really looks like and why its needed.

    Have a productive day.

    Andrew

  3. Brian Sibley :

    Bob – Love this. One thing I think about a lot lately, and you touched on it, is that notion of “thinking broadly about the task” … this is an interesting issue to me with regard to work lately and how I’ve begun to think differently about the work that I do. When I was younger (and more interested in people pleasing), I thought that I could think broadly about a great many things. No wonder I wasn’t satisfied! I think we all have a limited capacity for thinking broadly (which actually – though counterintuitively – requires intense focus). We can think broadly, certainly. But not about everything. I find I’m happier (as are my clients) now that I’ve gotten very clear about exactly what it is that I do (and do well), and which tasks are best given to someone else. We can never be all things to all people. But when we focus on our core strengths (and thereby make room for broader thought about them), we can be much more effective to those people who matter most to us. Thanks for writing this. Great post!

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