Owning appropriately

Owning appropriately

You can’t let extreme ownership of a situation block you from solving the root problem.

When I first came back to O.C. Tanner at the beginning of this year, I shared the principles of Extreme Ownership with my new team. One of the ideas I stressed was to own everything in our world. Not being able to address an issue by ourselves didn’t mean that we were off the hook. We needed to find out who could solve the problem, and work with them until it was resolved.

I quickly heard feedback that I was expecting more than people were used to. “It used to be if we were blocked, we could say that, and then move on to other things until we were unblocked. But you expect us to say who we’re going to work with, and start talking with them right after getting blocked!”

Following this approach allowed us to get much more accomplished than I think we would have otherwise.

This past week, my team commented that we’ve coordinated a lot lately, and executed less. There was concern that our approach of Extreme Ownership might be flawed.

As I heard that, a million thoughts raced through my head:

  • “No, it’s not flawed! It can’t be wrong.”
  • “What if it is flawed?”
  • “Maybe the process and approach is fine, but I’m doing it all wrong.”
  • “What am I missing?”
  • “What’s actually the problem here?”

I tried to pause and ask questions to better understand what my team was seeing.

As I listened, the answer struck me.

I had been pushing the team to take ownership of the wrong things.

The individual incidents that came up—whether questions about how the system works, or confusion that someone had, or bugs in the product—were symptoms and not the root problem.

As long as I stayed focused on taking ownership of each issue that came up and getting it solved, I was pushing us into the illusion of productivity. We were staying busy, and felt good as we solved each individual problem, but were missing the root cause.

We were ignoring the underlying issue.

Instead of taking ownership just for solving a one-off problem, we needed to take extreme ownership to implement a solution for responding to these issues generally. We were thinking tactically instead of strategically, and failing to get ahead.

Once we realized that, there was a collective sense of relief. We could see a path forward that didn’t require us to be anxiously awaiting alarms all the time.

The very next day, this was highlighted for us again. We were contacted for help with an urgent issue, and after researching for a while, we summoned help from other teams and eventually found the answer.

While those kinds of interruptions or plan changes are still hard, it was much easier to handle knowing that we were actively thinking about how to solve the bigger problem long-term.

Hopefully I can remember this lesson and avoid focusing our ownership efforts in the wrong places.

Manage your subscription