What You Call Management I Call Ownership

The best way to manage is to own your job.
Founder and Chairman, Palo Alto Software, Inc.
August 15, 2011

I was shocked when my friend said his bosses complained he "took too much ownership" as a department manager in a 20-employee service business. They cut his role in the company, and bruised his ego. All the time I was running my own business, 20+ years, what I wanted most from my team was ownership. And his bosses were complaining.

That was a couple of years ago, but his comment still stands out in my mind as one of the more puzzling things I've heard about any small business. I can't imagine how taking ownership in the job could be a bad thing. Since then he's left that company, and I'm no longer a client. No surprise there.

I use that story here because it reminds me that ownership might be the key to success in managing a business. I'm not talking about ownership as owning shares, stocks or percentages of a business. I'm talking about ownership as owning a job and caring about it. People who own their job care about it. They take pride in it. When their area does well, they're proud and happy about it. And when their area does poorly, they're worried about it.

I'm no expert, but I've felt like this for a long time, and I think I've seen some things about ownership that might help you, in your business. So here's my two-step formula.

1. Develop objective measures of performance

An objective measurement system, based on measurable results, is empowering. Patrick Lencioni, author of Three Signs of a Miserable Job, says it well:

"All human beings in any kind of a job need some way to assess their own performance that's objective…then they are not left to depend upon the opinion or the whim of a manager once a year during a performance appraisal."

Choose your performance measures together. Don’t impose from on high. Collaborate on realistic, useful, and measurable performance goals. Put them into your business plan.

Try to make it one person per performance measure. When you think of one of your indicators you should see one face, not a group. You want commitment, not just involvement. To understand the difference, think of a classic bacon-and-egg breakfast: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

2. Manage performance against plan

For ongoing management, in a team that has people owning their jobs, the main process is tracking plan vs. actual results on those same agreed-upon performance measurements.

With good process and a collaborative environment, the management becomes almost automatic. When performance is below the goals, a leader shares the problem and asks the right questions. Identify the causes. Was the agreed-upon performance goal too high? Did some unforeseen change in the business landscape create unforeseen problems? Was this manager working hard and smart and not getting predicted results for a good reason, or is this a matter of poor performance?

When people own their jobs in the right way, management isn’t looking over their shoulders and back-seat driving, it’s making sure that people get wins when they do well and help when they don’t.  You want to manage performance, not hours in the chair or attitude or anything else that’s inherently subjective.

And, over time, performance shows. Consistent strong performers rise in compensation, trust, and authority. And if there’s a pattern of poor performance, it shows up in the objective measurements.  And by the time you have to ask somebody to leave, you both know why they have to. There should be no surprises.

Give your people direction and destination and a vehicle to command. Don’t tell them when and where to turn and how fast or slow to go. Measure performance by how far they go in the right direction.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

Founder and Chairman, Palo Alto Software, Inc.