When it comes to running a successful tech team, it’s safe to say that most executives working in the IT field will sooner or later come to the same conclusions when being repeatedly faced with a series of common issues. You know the ones - developers expecting the royal treatment only to abandon the team three months into a project, dealing with giant egos, the lack of any real stability, and other typical problems we deal with regularly.
Welcome to the world of IT where demand is much higher than supply. It is a world in which you can chase a hot-shot candidate for 6 months, finally get him on your books as an employee, only to lose them right away due to a more lucrative offer being offered to them.
This is a big problem in our industry and many CTOs lose a lot of sleep over how they are going to meet deadlines without the appropriate staff. CTOs find themselves under increasing pressure from their CEOs and other C-level executives. The Holy Grail of IT is to hire people who love what they do, people who deliver more than is expected of them, and truly care about the outcome. How can we make that happen and find the right people for our teams? Let me introduce you to THE OWNERSHIP practice!
If you OWN, you CARE
I used to think that ownership and responsibility were the same thing. Nowadays, I understand that I could not be more wrong. Let me explain the most important difference between these two:
Most people treat the commodities they own better than the ones they rent for a brief period of time. Think about driving a car you saved up €10000 for vs a rental car you paid €75 for – which one are you going to drive more carefully? Which one will you be more mindful of the clutch in? Which one will you clean? If you own something, you care about it more – This is a simple concept but let’s dig deeper as the analogy is relevant to much more than just material possessions…
„That’s not my job”
Individuals that have a strong sense of ownership and responsibility are a valuable asset to businesses. They breed cultures in which no one is waiting for “someone else” to do something. For such an environment to function, this culture of ownership must be earned and must be valued by the business, or else people that exhibit such qualities and those that don’t will be treated equally. Employees with a sense of ownership are the very core of high performing teams.
Moreover, there is a strong connection between building a trustworthy workplace, empowering an ownership culture and forming high performing teams. Being able to differentiate between people’s true motivations is a first step to understanding the elusive nature of the ownership mindset. In this short series of three articles, I will help you to comprehend, spot and empower the ownership mindset within your current team. If you don’t yet have a team of tech superstars, I will help you to find a tech partner to best fit your business.
Needs determine motivation
Throughout my many years of working in IT, I have gathered valuable observations about the different types of people working as software engineers. Many hours spent conversing with other professionals has allowed me to understand a variety of motivations and styles of work in this business. You might have come across some of these in your own professional experience, but let me briefly introduce what I consider the most common character types:
- The Optimist – They are the “glass half full” people. They are always happy to help. They are not overly skilled technically but are open-minded, problem solvers, and easy to collaborate with.
- The Complainer – They are the “glass half empty” people. They tend to complain about everything on a daily basis. They self-stimulate by complaining, focusing on the negative side of things, and feeding off negative narration.
- The Princess – They expect the “royal treatment” at every stage. They are fully aware of the market and use it to negotiate the best possible deal without caring about the end-user or quality of the product. They are focused only on themselves and will likely abandon a project as soon as they are offered a better deal
- The Nerd – They get the job done. They require minimal social interaction. They need strong management and clearly assigned tasks. They tend to avoid taking too much responsibility as it gives more room to possible failure.
First of a series
As an IT manager, I’m always searching for ways to encourage people to love what they do and give 110% to every project. I decided to take a closer look at the low ownership issue in order to find any possible solutions to increasing employee motivation. After going through various articles on the topic and spending hours and hours in conversation with both developers and managers has allowed me to prepare this short summary on spotting and building a sense of ownership in your IT business.
Know the difference
Blame and justification
Blame games are a huge waste of time, period. When you are in “blame mode”,you are not in a good position to solve the problem. Blaming others and attempting to attribute fault to factors outside of your control as the main (or only) causes of failure will only result in tremendous frustration. In most cases, being just a team member you cannot hope to change the team, the team leader or anyone you currently blame for the issue. “The problem is out there, not in here” is a destructive line of thinking, even if the issue is not your fault, technically.
Even if you are not the problem, you are welcome to be part of the solution
Obligation means you have to do something that you don’t fully want to, or you’re not fully sure of. You are obliged to do the minimum to label the job “done” and go home. Sadly, this is a common feature of the modern corporate culture. If you’re afraid that someone will eventually blame you if something goes wrong, then you certainly won’t do any extra work, as this would only create more opportunities for potential failure. Using a sense of obligation as the main driving factor might technically work, but it’s not going to be very effective and certainly won’t put you in a position to deliver the best solutions to any problems. It will likely result in employees experiencing a very boring 9-5 job to which they feel no real affinity of commitment. It will lower productivity and drain your staff’s energy through a lack of any real intrinsic motivation.
Accountability vs responsibility:
Responsibility can be both given out and taken away. However, assigning responsibility does not guarantee that accountability will be taken. Each person in the team can be assigned responsibility for solving a particular issue but in most cases, only one person is held accountable for the result of the team’s work. It seems to be more motivating to do a good job when people feel accountable for their work, rather than simply being responsible for someone’s decision. Accountability is seen as a major factor in creating personal growth, as opposed to creating anxiety (as is often assumed). A good mindset can make you “go the extra mile”, even if nobody expects you to do so. It might be the difference perfecting or simply completing the piece of code you wrote or the functionality you are in charge of. There is always room for improvement if you truly care.
A sense of ownership
The ownership mindset is about showing initiative and being responsible even when you won’t be held accountable for the result. It gives you a certain type of self-confidence. When you truly feel ownership of your work, you won’t be ashamed of your mistakes as you will treat them as a natural part of the learning curve. You want to do your job the best way you can and you do not blame anyone else for possible issues. There is no magical attitude you can adopt that will guarantee you to solve a problem, but taking ownership of your work puts you and your team in the best place mentally to be able to do so. “Let’s sort this out together” is a much better attitude than “that’s not my problem”. People stepping up and taking personal responsibility for their work contributes immensely to their high-performance team as they tend to come up with more effective solutions, thereby making the job easier for the whole team as a result.
How we do it at LEOCODE
There are two main ways of approaching the low ownership issue:
- Build a high sense of ownership mindset from scratch within an existing team.
- Find a tech partner with the right values, tools and knowhow and who also have access to a pool of selected talents.
We had a long discussion a few years ago about our future, our company goals and the values we represent. We discovered that there are two main factors which are important to us when making business and IT decisions:
- BE HELPFUL – Delivering digital products is a process that needs true initiative to reach its full potential. We try to always be helpful any time we can improve even the smallest aspect within our business. We care about the end-user as much as we care about proper execution, technology and business aspects. If there is something that can be done better, be sure that we’ll improve it.
- BE THE SOLUTION – We take pride in being able to create great software. Facing and solving issues is what motivates our talents every single day. Agile communication and transparency is what makes us different as a company. We focus on efficiency, high-quality products and being a true tech partner to our clients. Having the ability to deliver solutions to every IT problem your company might face is exactly what we strive for.
The next step
You now know the basics of what having a strong sense of ownership is (and what it’s not). The next article will guide you through “must-have” conditions of forming an ownership culture within your organization. Subscribe to our newsletter and stay tuned to receive a handy set of questions for your team, a guide on possible red flags to watch out for and clear conditions you can implement to let your team take the initiative and enjoy their work even more.
I’ve also put together all the information from both articles and created a handy checklist. It will help you spot the ownership tendencies in your current team members and pick the right tools for empowering the mindset you want to grow in your environment. To download it click the picture below or follow the link.