One of the unexpected gifts of selling Contactually has been the opportunity to have an outsiders’ view of the culture we created. While much of our team and what we valued has remained through the acquisition, the acclimation to a new set of cultural tenets and associated rituals has served as a contrasting agent. What was so “good” about what we built, and what do I want to instill in a future venture?
One of those was ownership.
Ownership can have multiple manifestations, and we meant all of them to varying degrees. Personal agency – you are responsible for your own actions, wins, and errors. There was no such thing as “not my job” or “stay in your lane” – every employee had equity as a token representation of that.
The most important interpretation of ownership, in my reflection, is the complete faith and responsibility put in a single person for whatever was placed in their trust. Everyone else, myself included, had to respect that.
Ownership meant I, as passionate as I may be about the product domain we were in, would almost never intervene in product decisions. We would make sure that our product leader was aligned on the overall goals of the business, and trusted them on the roadmap.
Ownership meant that if someone went wrong, we would know who to talk to. Finger pointing wasn’t necessary as mistakes or bad calls rarely had negative ramifications for the person in charge, but they were expected to be transparent and cooperative in understanding the issue and finding a solution.
Ownership meant that we only thought about company finances once a month at our finance check-in, knowing that our VP Finance was trusted – and expected – with keeping an eye on the back office the rest of the time. We would otherwise only get brought in when we were told to.
Ownership meant that (in)decision by committee was never a thing. We expected one person to make the call, and it was their job to incorporate the thoughts and needs of everyone they worked with, usually in a RACI model.
Ownership meant I could be heads down on a project, from selling the company to attending a conference, without having much concern over what was happening at HQ or on Slack.
Ownership meant I would never tell someone to change the copy on a page or move pixels – and if I did, it was suggestions, to the right person.
Ownership meant that we would know who to celebrate for the wins, and they, in turn, would know who else to include.
Ownership meant that, if there was a key decision or project that required cooperation (e.g. a financially complex sales opportunity) – we could point to the 2-3 people that needed to be involved in the decision.
Ownership meant I could do my best to embody servant leadership – with full trust placed in one person for any one initiative or sub-task, I could focus on supporting them with their guidance.
Ownership meant I could scan the office, see a bunch of meetings happening, with little context around what they were meeting about, but had full trust that they were working on the right thing.
Ownership meant that when you were hiring, you screened for people who had exhibited ownership and strategic thinking in prior roles. Order-takers and yes-people need not apply.
Ownership reduced internal politics – as there was one person you had to convince, not a group of people you had to build a campaign around.
Ownership meant I could bring in a large sales opportunity and, after a handoff meeting with one of our account executives, not pay attention to the aspects of a deal and focus just on maintaining a personal relationship with the prospect.
Ownership absolutely had it’s challenges in our implementation. I clenched my teeth many times as we watched the team err, resisting the urge to put our hands on the wheel.
Bestowing ownership on one person meant that others would not – not always the easy to swallow (e.g. were we “product-led” “design-led” “engineering-led” “sales-led” organization?)
The accomplice to ownership is having faith in the person you are bestowing ownership of something upon, and, to no surprise, in hindsight we were too slow to correct problems.
I can’t recall the origin of our core value of ownership, as I believe it was there from when we first codified our values. But, looking back, it was one of the most important aspects of our company’s culture.