What it Means to Take Ownership

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, I am posting a series of self-reflection posts where I reflect back on six different “Words of wisdom” concepts I left my former team with when I departed. In part two of my six part series, we will look at what it means to take ownership.

Concept Two: Ownership

This part of my email went as follows:

Own everything you do. Own your decisions. Own your results. Own your product. Own your customers. Just like many of you were the advocate for your patients in your previous roles, you are now the advocate for our customers. It is very critical for us to verify what it is we are doing: what will happen, who it will happen to, etc. Verify you work, your team member’s work, and work done by other teams. Remember: “Show me the data!” or as Bob (name changed) says, “Make me understand!” If you do not understand something, you cannot support it, troubleshoot it, or justify it to a customer.”

In my email to my team, I called this concept “Trust, but Verify” but after reflecting back on it, the concept I was trying to portray and what I called out in the first line: ownership.”Throughout my career I prided myself on the fact that I felt that I would always follow-up and follow-through on action items. Specially, one time I had a leader in a department take me aside to talk to me. We were about to launch a huge IT project in their department that was going to totally change their lives and many people were very scared and anxious about this change. What this leader told me, to my surprise, was this: “Paul, I wanted to tell you that a lot of people here trust you with this project. We trust you because you demonstrate the confidence that you know what you are doing, and when you don’t know what you are doing, you tell us. As the same time, you assure us that you will figure it out. When you do figure it out, you come back and tell us and that makes us confident in you.” This really stuck with me because although I always told myself “follow-up and follow-through” this was the first time a high-profile individual told me I was doing it and it was working. It reminded me that you do not always have to know what you are doing, and you can be honest with people about that, but follow-up and follow-through on the actions to demonstrate you can figure out what you are doing.

This mindset is one piece of ownership. Another piece that I learned that I carry through my professional and personal life is, you are your only advocate. I learned this from working in healthcare. What I learned is that no matter what, we are all human and you, and only you, are your only true advocate. This is where “Trust, but verify” comes in. It is OK to trust someone, like your doctor, but it is even more OK to verify them. Case in point: I had to get a shoulder x-ray a few years back. I had been working in the operating room long enough to know that a key safety factor that is part of the World Health Organization’s safety checklist before surgery is verifying the site of the operation. I knew my problem was with my left shoulder – it was a lingering issue I had since a childhood. When I got into the x-ray room they positioned my right shoulder for an x-ray. At first I thought “maybe they are going to do a comparison?” but then that thought changed to “Trust that they know what they are doing, but verify it with them.” I then immediately asked the technician to please check the records because it is my left shoulder I am having problems with. She went back to the chart and said “the doctor wrote ‘right’ on the order but I see it was the ‘left’ that you scheduled your appointment for. The doctor must have written it wrong.” Trust, but verify!

Now it is easy to act upon the “Trust, but verify” concept when it is yourself, but much harder when in the business world. I think many people think of this approach as distrusting of other people. Surly the people you are double checking think so! They key to trusting but verifying someone is simple: don’t be a jerk. If your focus is on the customer and you tell the person this and explain that ensuring that everything checks out is in the best interest of the customer, that will go a long way. When they come back to you and everything checks out, thank them for doing that and ensuring that the customer was going to get a better product because you were absolutely sure after their check. I have countless examples where I have done this. In one specific example I asked someone who did not report to me to go verify their work in a different way than they had previously. They signed deeply as they walked away frustrated. When they came back, they had found an error and then thanked me for having them look at it differently. Trust, but verify.

For the leaders reading this, set the expectation that your staff should do this to you as well. This is the culture I created previously and the one I will in the future. In the last few months of my last role, I helped someone on my team with a really complicated Excel analysis. I did it all as he watched me over my shoulder and I talked him through what I was doing. He took the Excel sheet back to his desk, deconstructed it, figured out how it worked, then found an error. He came back to me, asked me to explain what I did to him again stating “Make me understand Paul!” He specifically pointed out what he thought was wrong and as I walked through my work, I looked at him and said “nice find.” To this he responded, “You always tell us ‘trust, but verify.’ I trust you, but I wanted to make sure you did it right because I am the one that will be accountable for implementing this.”

You see, in this example our customer got a better product this day because of his ownership of his customer and the work he was doing for them. It was better because he trusted me with my work, but verified it worked as expected and to his standards. So my advice to you is take ownership in what you do and ensure that the work others are doing for you is of that same level of quality that you would do yourself and what you would expect as the customer.

Read part three of my six part series: Self Reflection and How to be a Dot Connector

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