From the One to the Many

One to Many
One to Many

After 10 years working with my wife (Rena Reich) at I’m now watching her do great things on her own site, The Pet Wiki. So in the evening I watch my wife creating on her own and it gives me food for thought for working as part of a team the next day. It’s a good daily reminder of management’s goals, opportunities, and challenges.

Rena is her own development team, product and project manager, SEO expert, social media director, director of community, investor, senior management, and QA. I know that eventually she’s going to need to start growing her organization / network, much the way WikiAnswers grew from a one person project.

Which has been driving me to think about how we can maximize the benefits people get from joining organizations and minimize the costs.

Today I want to discuss the three types of ownership the individual gives up when joining a company. In reverse order of importance, IMO, a person gives up ownership of:

  1. The wealth created
  2. The definition of the product / service
  3. His or her own life, at least during work-hours (and often beyond)

The first trade-off is straightforward. You get a monthly salary and somebody else assumes the upside potential and the downside risk. We try to be generous with salaries, benefits, and stock options, but ultimately, the individual is trading upside potential for a paycheck.

The second trade-off is harder for some people. They’re often sure they know what’s best and they often get overruled. I try to defer to my people when I can. If we’re working together well, we all understand the company’s goals and are working towards them, and respect each other enough that the individual rarely feels that he or she was arbitrarily overruled. More often than not I’m letting my people overrule me, because they’re closer to the front line, and they’re the ones that have to carry the decisions through.

The third trade-off is the biggest and hardest. As any Star Trek fan knows (I guess others learn this lesson from other sources), the human need for freedom is very strong, as is our fear of being controlled. An individual working for him or herself may have to answer to rude or unreasonable clients, but there’s generally not the same feeling of being owned. Parents, teachers, husbands, and wives should remember this too. You have to be sensitive to people’s fear of being controlled, especially in a relationship where one (or both) might feel stuck. So as a manager, the biggest thing you can do to keep your people happy is to let them maintain their feelings of ownership of their own work lives. If they feel like slaves, they’ll work live slaves, which may or may not have led to high productivity on medieval plantations, but certainly will not lead to creativity and effectiveness among knowledge workers.

Many of the lessons I learned reading Tom Peters as a teenager I’ve since rejected. But helping your people feel ownership over their work lives and over their work? Essential. My experience has been that Peters was dead-on on these issues. Keep your people happy, inspired, respected, admired, appreciated, and empowered. And watch them do great work. If they can’t feel that ownership within your company, they’ll either do mediocre work for you, or do great work somewhere else.

Image: / CC BY 2.0