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A Sense of Ownership

24/05/2012

People have tried to get me involved as co-author of their book. But I didn’t want to. It was not my book.

Some have asked me to help organize their conference. But I didn’t do it. It was not my conference.

And I have always resisted coaching and consulting on other people’s projects. I didn’t care. They were not my projects.

It is true. I’m egocentric.

I care more about my work. About my team. And my business. My house. My children. I care somewhat less about yours.

Your Project, Not Mine

A friend of mine recently told me that his off-shore team was producing terrible results, and slowly too. When he traveled there to discuss the quality and productivity problems, he found out that the same people had their own little startup on the side, working on it in their spare time. And the product they were making as a startup was amazing. While the product they were making as off-shore employees was crap.

I think these people had an ownership problem.

They thought, “This is your project, but we only care about our project.”

Ownership First, Urgency Later

John Kotter introduced the concept of “a sense of urgency”. People will not change their behaviors if they don’t feel it is urgent.

But maybe we need something else first. Maybe “a sense of ownership” has to precede the sense of urgency. When people see a house on fire, most of them bring a camera, not a fire extinguisher. Unless it is their own house.

Therefore, my suggestion to my friend is to fire his off-shore team, and then hire their startup as a subcontractor. That should allow them to own what they make.

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This article is written by on in Change Management. Jurgen Appelo is at Happy Melly. Connect with Jurgen Appelo on .

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  • Riccardo Bua

    In my view it has to be also tied up on how professional you are, if you are asked for something you should try to do it at your best, you might not be motivated if it is not yours, but it will still reflect on how you are perceived. Everything you do should be done as something you own, if you don’t see a return on this, you might run into the scenario you are describing above.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/harrylong Harry Long

    Great food for thought

  • http://profile.typepad.com/artemserdyuk Artem Serdyuk

    Riccardo, things done by a professional might (and will) be dramaticaly different from things done by a professional who put all his heart into it.
    And also – if a professional doesn’t like the product, (s)he fires the customer. What was actually happend in the story above.

  • http://advicio.com Tonio Grawe

    Wow, this is a good thought.
    While I believe you are right, I also know that it is insufficient to tell people that they are the owner of whatever. So how do you get that buy-in? Guess that brings us back to intrinsic motivation?

  • Jim Shingler

    I’ve found that Ownership frequently drives bad behavior. Would Stewardship apply just as well?

  • Martin

    The best project I’ve worked in as a tester is one were we used the concept of Ownership. Where each testable “item” was passed around the process and when it was ready for test a tester was given and “owned” it. Was responsible for it.
    And this worked very well. It is a powerful concept.
    Good point!

  • Matthew Towler

    I suggest considering the role of economics and incentives in behaviour.  When working as an offshore team they were likely not being paid very much, the work is steady but unexciting, and once they have produced a solution they will move on to the next contract.  Therefore whether the product is successful in the medium to long term has no effect on their reward.  Whereas with their start up they likely see an opportunity to own their own success, and benefit greatly from it, which is a great motivator.  The fundamental issue is that the entrepreneur in charge will keep all the rewards, whilst expecting those beneath them to care as much as they do.  If the rewards were evened ou amongst all those wo contributed to the success of the company, everyone would be highly motivated.

  • http://www.scrummaster.nl Maurice le Rutte

    My thoughts too. In the first case the team is hired as a cost reduction team, to maximize the profits for the entrepreneur. In the second case they might actually be hired because of their talents. They’ll quickly find out if their margins are squeezed or they are ditched for another, cheaper team.