On Ownership

The people who have the most impact in a company, especially startups, have one thing in common: they can successfully own things.

Dissecting Ownership: So what does owning something mean: Can you own a launch? Can you own the design? Can you own the development? Can you own company analytics?

If yes, then you’re in charge of doing it and making sure it’s done to perfection. It doesn’t matter if it falls outside your job title. Sometimes the responsibilities may belong to some other department, but you will fill in the gaps when required and as you see them.

For example, just being a designer is different than owning design. A designer may just do his job when asked, but when you own the design you will care enough to rethink designs people don’t ask you to do and sweat the details on a release.

That’s a huge difference.

When you own things you either pick an area or pick a problem you want to solve and then solve it.

People who can own things do not need to be constantly told what to do but can find problems which don’t work and solve it themselves. When we hire people we give them a few problems to solve enough for them to identify an area of ownership.

The Qualities of Ownership:

1. Ownership is not given to you; you take it.

It’s very similar to leadership. It’s usually not given to you, you do it. It belongs to those who take it.

People who hire you can identify some areas of a company you will own, but your true area of ownership is defined by you and what you will solve. Similar to leadership, people can bring you on as a leader, but whether you truly lead depends on you.

There are way too many things to be built in a company than hours in a day to solve them. People who can identify that and fix them are so critical especially in the early stages and take the initiative to do it.

2. Owning things is hard (and fun)

Pointing problems out is always easy. Giving recommendations is easy. Analyzing what’s wrong is easy. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines of any company and complain and recommend and analyze.

It’s hard to do things and solve them. It’s sweating a lot of details. It’s caring enough. All these things are hard.

But at the end of the day it’s extremely fulfilling.

3. Owning things goes above functions and departments

Under a structure of owning there is no way to work other than collaboration. Problems in startups especially require working with different functions more because there aren’t enough specialized people for each role.

In a structure like this, your care will drive getting things done.

Lastly, the key for a startup is not just to hire people with the qualities of ownership but also create an environment where it thrives and building a kind of management structure around it.

Holocracy is such an example adopted by companies (including Medium) or the one (wo)man startup concept explored by AngelList. A management structure and management team which encourages ownership is critical. Ownership has to be supported by management or else it would fail and as a startup you have to be fluid enough to figure out which one can work instead of defaulting on a traditional management structure.

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