You need to take more ownership. — Your Boss
Perhaps you’ve heard that in a performance review. Or it’s been something you’ve heard stated as a good thing to do in your career.
What does it mean though?
Of course you’ll do your job, take care of those items that are are assigned to you. So aren’t you already taking ownership? You are already accountable for those things that are included in your job description. You own them, you are responsible for them.
How do you do more?
Below, I’ll discuss five ways you can take ownership to increase your value to your company.
- Take Pride in Your Work
- Own Your Mistakes
- Stepping Up
- Helping Your Boss
- See It Through
Each area gives you opportunity to increase your value to your boss and company. You build trust, learn new skills, and increase your visibility. You build a reputation as being someone that will get the job done.
One critical element to all of these approaches is your attitude. Bring your best effort and enthusiasm to the job. When you approach your work energetically and positively it will make a much better impression than if you are only doing it because you have to. If you drag your feet, if the boss needs to keep prodding you to make progress, that’s not going to help you in the long run.
Take Pride in Your Work
A vital part of taking ownership is claiming responsibility for your results. Let others know what you contributed to the project. If you are responsible for writing a white paper, designing a new algorithm, writing a block of code, creating a presentation, then take ownership, put your name to it.
This is not about creating a fiefdom, or jealously protecting what you’ve created. The point is to take credit for your contributions, to "sign" them. Take pride in what you created.
If it’s a shared project, be sure to share the ownership with others as appropriate. They deserve credit for their contributions as well. You’re a part of a team, working towards a common goal and each member has the right to take ownership for their individual contributions, while the team as a whole can claim the sum of the parts.
Doing an excellent job, and taking ownership for it, will boost your credibility. Others will see you as someone that can be counted out. Your signature on something has meaning and represents a mark of quality. The work can be trusted because you can be trusted.
Own Your Mistakes
Have you had one of those "Oh, Shit!" moments? You’re all done with the draft report and you hit send to the division alias when you meant to send it just to your team for review. Just before committing the code you make one little change, shouldn’t affect anything. After getting off the phone you realize you gave the customer the wrong information.
We all make mistakes. Botch something, come to the wrong conclusion, introduce a bug in code we’re writing. Fail to see the full consequence of an action or decision.
Owning your mistakes is a corollary of signing your work. It’s your work, and there’s a mistake. Now what?
There are three basic steps to take at this point.
- Own it. You broke it, you got it wrong. Admit it.
- Be a part of the solution to correct it.
- Learn from it so you don’t repeat the same mistake again.
In admitting your mistakes, you signal those involved that you are taking ownership of the situation and will work towards a solution. Taking responsibility for both what you get right, and what you get wrong, increases trust. That you will stand by your work. Notify any stakeholders, roll up your sleeves and start cleaning up the mess.
The severity and impact of the situation can guide what you do now, and what may be deferred to later. Perhaps just a notification of the error is sufficient in the current moment. Or maybe some other team will take ownership based on how the organization is structured. In such a case, take an interest in the solution. Offer your assistance. Be a part of the solution.
A team I was leading once made some errors in a complex code integration that broke the build. Fixing the issue required access that my staff did not have, but we jumped in to assist in any way we could to get things working again. As the integration team worked through their processes, we reviewed changes they were making and answered questions they had about our requirements and work. Ultimately, a gap in the integration process was uncovered and steps were taken to avoid a similar case in the future.
Mistakes are learning opportunities. They give us an opportunity to see things from another angle that we didn’t consider before. Mistakes can open our eyes to other possibilities. The next time you find yourself following a similar path, you’ll be better informed about the challenges and risks ahead and you can choose a different solution. Or work to mitigate a risk that you previously didn’t know about.
Somewhat related to mistakes, there will be times something goes wrong outside your control. But it’s in an area of your responsiblity. Avoid turning it into a blame game or a finger pointing exercise. Those are exhausting and don’t address the active situation. Whatever the extenuating circumstances or external reasons, there is still a reality that some part of what you are responsible for is not working. Take ownership, find a solution. Bring others together if needed and build a team to solve the problem. Take charge and provide a solution.
Taking ownership and following through builds trust. It builds your reputation as a solution provider.
Have you been in one of those meetings where a task comes up and nobody wants to take it?
It lingers in the air. The team lead, your boss, is waiting patiently for someone to speak up. Letting that awkward silence fill the air.
You’re think it’s outside your job description. Or the task should really belong to someone else or another department. You don’t know what needs to be done or how to do it.
Step up and say "I’ve got this one. I’ve cover it. I’ll figure it out."
Be a solution provider.
Take an opportunity to learn about a new facet of the project or other work your company does.
Be the go-to person on the team that your boss can count on to get things done.
Then go do it with enthusiasm. With the same dedication you give to your core responsibilities. Once you’ve agreed to do it, you own it and it is now a part of your responsibilities. No less so than any other task you’ve committed to doing.
I’m not suggesting you do this all the time, for every item that comes up. You may never get your primary tasks done if you did. But do volunteer. It gets noticed. You get noticed as someone willing to do what is needed for the team, the project and ultimately the company.
It’s likely that stepping up in this way will provide you greater opportunity in the future. When I’ve had staff volunteer for skut work, and do a good job with it, I tend to bring new opportunities to them first. They’ve shown a deeper dedication to our goals and understand that sometimes the work is unglamorous.
Once you have stepped up, go find that other team that should be helping and work with them. Partner with someone else that can assist you in completing the work. I’ve seen staff say "I’ll take that one", and then turning to someone else in the meeting, "Stacey, I could probably use your help on this, can we talk after the meeting?" or "I don’t know how to do that but I’m willing to learn. Who can I talk to?" This is what being a leader looks like. Bringing the right people together to solve a problem or create something new.
In one situation, I needed someone on the team to represent us at a development meeting. While meetings are often an anathema, this turned into an opportunity. They needed to quickly learn some new technology in order to properly represent our concerns. Not only did they learn the material, the individual became one of the experts in the company on the technology owning key elements of the design. This individual could have taken a more passive approach, assuming someone else there was going to take charge. Instead, they turned it into a career opportunity that turned into a promotion.
When you take ownership of these unwanted tasks, you become seen as a solution provider. You expand your capabilities. You increase your value on the team and to the company. There’s often something to learn. Maybe there is an opportunity to increase your team efficiency through automation or process redesign that you can take on. Look for the opportunities.
Set yourself apart from other members of the team by stepping up to take on some of those orphan tasks. Should there be a layoff, who do you want to be? The person your boss looks to for solutions, for getting the job done, or the person that just keeps their head down focusing on only those things that are a part of their their job description?
Help Your Boss
Closely related to stepping up in meetings is seeing, and even seeking, opportunity to help your boss. They are probably busy with all manner of things going on, meetings to attend, reports to generate, keeping tabs on projects, knowing what each of their staff is up to, ensuring the team has the resources it needs to work, and on and on.
Have you had someone take over something from you when you are busy? It’s a huge relief. One fewer things for you to worry about, think about or to deal with.
Do that for your boss, or someone else that’s super busy on your team. Take on a task that needs doing that is outside your core responsibilities. Take ownership of one of those items. "Can I work on that for you?" Or maybe it’s "Can I work on that with you?"
You could become the main liaison for your team with another department. You then become known outside your team as the expert, the go-to person for that area. Or you start preparing the team report for project status meetings. If your boss is unable to attend, who will get that exposure? The person that created the report, that understands the material.
These are also opportunities to increase your awareness of what is happening within and around your team. To become more aware of the context in which your team works, the resource challenges that exist, the tradeoffs that must be made for the project or business to move forward.
These are opportunities for you to increase your value, your impact and your reach in your organization.
See It Through
You’re working late on your project. There’s an anomaly in the performance data. The code is passing tests, but there appear to be some isolated cases that don’t perform as expected. Not terrible, and still better than the original code. What do you do?
You could ignore the anomaly, move forward with the project. You’re on a deadline and it’s approaching.
Or, you could dig in. Ask why. Seek to understand.
After further research you are able to prove it’s not your code. It’s actually something in the hardware. Something seems to be amiss in the processor. Now what?
Having proven it’s not your code you could move forward with your project. The hardware is not your responsibility.
Or you could raise the issue up. Contact the hardware engineers. Show them your findings.
You stay engaged with the hardware team as they work to understand the issue with you. Ultimately a latent chip bug is uncovered that can be fixed in the next version of the processor. Meanwhile, the compiler team issues a fix to avoid the instruction sequence that triggers the problem on existing systems.
That is what taking ownership can look like. I want people like that on my team! This actually is the path one of my staff took on a problem, keeping me informed of what was happening and why the schedule was going to slip. Taking the issue to resolution. This was also an element of justification for their next promotion.
It’s not always necessary, or appropriate, to stay directly engaged like I’ve described above. If you do handoff, make sure it’s a positive handoff. The person (or system) taking over acknowledges the problem is now theirs, they are the owner. In some cases this may simply be filing a properly documented bug in a bug tracking system, the bug number is your acknowledgement. Or it may be talking to another individual to confirm with them that they will be taking over.
Until some other person or team acknowledges they are taking over, the issue is yours. Don’t let it fall through the cracks and become an unowned task or issue. Those have a way of reappearing at the most inopportune time.
I’ve covered five areas where you can look to take ownership:
- Take Pride in Your Work
- Admitting Mistakes
- Stepping Up
- Helping Your Boss
- Seeing It Through
A key behavior at the center for all of them is being results focused. Taking proactive steps to move your work forward. Be proactive in looking beyond your core responsibilities to find ways you can create solutions for your team, your division and your company.
There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem. — Eldridge Cleaver
Header Image used under CC0: Winslow Homer – The Herring Net, 1885. The Art Institute of Chicago.