April 19, 2014

Ownership is easy when you’re not fighting for survival

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Fight In Wolf Pack

Fight In Wolf Pack II by amrodel on deviantart.com

Right on the heels of my recent post advocating the development of a “Shop Owner Mentality” in order to create pride and dedication within organizations, an article by Nacie Carson was published on FastCompany.com entitled “Think Like An Entrepreneur, Act Like An Employee.”

In my article, I wrote:

People who are proud of their shop always want to have that pride.  They want it to sustain and grow.  They never want to see their pride diminished.

In your workplace, do people act like shopowners?  Do they do work extra hard to take care of the shop, own its processes, design its delivery of goods and services, and constantly seek out innovative ways to provide value?  Are they looking for ways to grow the business, since that growth leads to both stability and prosperity?

Odds are, they are not.  Most people are just trying to survive it all, in return for a paycheck and some sense of satisfaction, if it can be found at all.  Most people have jobs and not purposes.  That lack of purpose prevents the emergence of any kind of pride in the ability to do the job, grow the company, satisfy the customer or improve the quality of whatever it is they are selling.  Instead, pride gets twisted until it becomes not pride of ownership, but pride of survival.

 

My perspective was this:  Most people would love to be calling the shots, but fear of reprisal prevents them from experimenting with risky project that, although they might have great rewards, just aren’t worth the potential downside if the project fails.  As a result, people embrace self-protection and learn to keep their heads down.  In other words, they learn to survive.  The only way this can be systematically overcome is for leaders at the top of organizations to embrace management styles and practices that encourage, and even reward, risk taking.

The FastCompany article has a different take on the situation:

Traditionally, the roles of employee and entrepreneur represent two completely different professional archetypes, each with their own ideal skill set. For example, success for an employee is often measured by how well they take direction from superiors, act within the scope of their job responsibilities or function, and reinforce the mission, vision, or values of the organization. Success for entrepreneurs is typically determined by their ability to direct their own work and act without precedent, to expand and grow their job responsibilities and functions, and to envision and support a mission, vision, and set of values on their own. Another way to look at it is to think of the role of an employee as implementing the tactics of an organization–the individual actions that contribute to the success of the larger strategy. The role of an entrepreneur is to develop that larger strategy, and implement it themselves or oversee its implementation.

From my experience in professional development and management consulting, I can tell you that the number one complaint organizations have about their employees is their inability to act tactically but think strategically–or, as above, to act like an employee but think like an entrepreneur. This requires being a follower and a leader simultaneously, and knowing which hat to wear when.

 

First off, I hate when someone says “the organization” has a complaint, perspective, takes an action, or anything else.  Organizations do not act – people within organizations act.  In the above passage, “the number one complaint organizations have about their employees” really means “the number one complaint people at the head of organizations have about their employees” or, in other words, “the boss is complaining about the employees’ inability.”

Yep – that’s right – the behavior of the rank & file is all their fault.  It’s not that management styles prevent risk taking, it’s that those people at the bottom just don’t know how to get to the top.

The article goes on to depict a situation where an entrepreneurial-minded young man rewrote some of the code behind one of his company’s critical reporting processes – without asking permission – and his efforts yielded success.  Of course, he was also a year out of college and, quite very likely, had nothing to lose.  Take a seasoned professional who isn’t yet vested in the 401K plan, has children in need of braces, summer camp, daycare, and a house to live in – and the willingness to unilaterally initiate an enterprise-changing project diminishes greatly.  Why?  Because in many places the very fact that you undertook something without three levels of review and approval threatens your ability to stay at least in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid.

The article’s point is well taken, and offers some very solid advice:

After all, if you are super productive, all you’ll get is more work to do, right?

Yes, and in more than one sense. You may be assigned more responsibilities and tasks, but you will also likely be offered more opportunity in the organization…as long as you make sure someone notices the effort. Like the proverbial tree in the forest, if a man works 80 hours a week and no one sees him, does he still get a raise? (No.) This is why productivity, when combined with a great professional brand, is an awesome recipe for increasing your value within an organization. The point is to look at your job responsibilities and required skills from a place of ownership, initiative, and personal direction. Remember, it’s about strategy and tactics.

 

However, I’d hate to be in the organization where everyone is looking for a big project to undertake in order to make a name for themselves.  That sounds like a place without standards, where it is more likely that people will seek to make themselves look good by making others look bad, and where management, rather than leading the people within the organization to reach their potential, is content to sit by and let the wolves destroy each other just to see which one is the strongest.

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