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Company Culture: How to achieve better results and build trust within your team Interview on Extreme Ownership

Although seemingly unrelated, accountability plays a huge part in the success not only of a single project but also the whole organization, no matter its size. It can reinforce the values and support a workplace where feedback is honest, and trust is reciprocated.

These are the things that we cherish at Predica, and taking extreme ownership is what helped us get there.

If you are not familiar with the concept or simply want to learn more, then you will find a dozen examples in the interview below with me as a guest.

This is a shortened and edited version of the original live conversation hosted by my colleague Kinga. It was recorded and published as the fifth episode of the Climb up that tech ladder! podcast that you can find here.

What is extreme ownership?

Greg: Before we start talking about extreme ownership, I think we must get back to the meaning of the concept. Its basics are described in the book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

I think the concept and the title themselves were coined purely for marketing purposes. In my opinion, the title should be just Ownership. And extreme is just a fancy way of selling more books. Although it worked for me because I bought it just because of that name on the cover!

And what is Ownership? I think that everyone knows what the word means. It is about owning something, like having something exclusively for yourself.

That’s more or less what extreme ownership is for me, and I will call it simply ownership later on.

Welcome Package with the Extreme Ownership book

Welcome pack at Predica

Why is adopting ownership so important in business?

Greg: It is important not only in business but also in your life. Each of us owns something like pets, family, and sometimes cars. The question is why it’s important to own it and not just share it or rent it.

I think it comes from the opposite of sharing common things like in the communist era, which failed. We have a few examples even in the 20th-century Poland, where no one owned anything, and everything was shared. I guess we all know how this experiment ended up. We observed this concept in Cuba and North Korea, and we all know what the state of those countries is like today.

One way to explain it is when you think about toilets. Stay with me here. When you see toilets in private apartments versus those in shared spaces, you can see the difference. I think it’s exactly the same with ownership at work.

If you have something that is not owned by anyone, then you can compare the quality of this asset, the quality of the process, and the quality of the work done to the whole economic system, which is shared instead of owned. Just like a public toilet.

And that’s exactly my approach and attitude to owning something instead of sharing something or just using it without having a clear sense of ownership.

Without ownership, the quality of the whole process is significantly lower than otherwise. And it’s not only about quality but also the diminished joy of using something.

How can you demonstrate extreme ownership at work?

Greg: When we talk about work, we often think about being like an actor in a different play or environment. Maybe we are doing that to simplify all the dodged accountability. And if we do something slightly differently, then we put ourselves in a new perspective. And here’s the analogy.

Let’s imagine you have a party with your friends, and something bad is happening to you. There is a wild and crazy party, and you hurt yourself by accident. You are bleeding. You have 20 minutes until you bleed out.

And now imagine that your friends are sitting there trying to create a list of ideas on what to do. You’re lying down, you are breathing with difficulty, what would you like them to do?

Would you like them to sit there and talk about the best way to solve the problem? Maybe someone would suggest calling a doctor or simply start fixing your wound to give you more time.

I think the most important part is for someone to just take accountability. It means that if you’re among that friend group, you don’t care who is to blame, and whether it was an accident or not. What you do is drive your injured friend to the hospital.

You take accountability and ownership of the situation. Helping your friend is now your single and most important task. And you don’t care about anything else.

Maybe your solution will not be the best, but this is not really the time to figure that out. At this very moment, you don’t want to email lots of people or discuss the best way of fixing the wound. And very often in the workplace, we do exactly that kind of stuff.

If you have some stuff to do, then either do it, take accountability for it, and make sure it’s done, or not do it at all.

If someone has an idea and you don’t like it, you have two options. You either commit and do exactly what the person suggested or propose something better.

I don’t like working with people who just say things like “This is not the best idea because of this and that.” That is not productive, that is not for me, and that is not ownership. On the contrary, it means that you are doing everything possible not to do the work but maybe just to shine, to show yourself.

You have the mental capabilities to do the task. So, you take it, own it, and do it. I either do something or do nothing. There is nothing in between. There’s no gray space.

I’ll give you another simple example. When there are five people in the CC of an email trail, I want you to either drop me from the communication or give me something to do. For me, there is nothing in the middle.

I don’t want to be the eleventh person on the CC line who doesn’t do anything or follows the comments. If there is something to discuss, let’s just have a five-minute meeting and start doing the things that must be done.

If I’m in such a situation, I always imagine myself in an extreme situation, just like in the example about a hurt friend lying on the floor. I think about what I would do in similar conditions. I would not think about other things, but I would try to help as well as I can.

One of Predicans reaching a mountain peak on Workation

Is acting and taking ownership the same?

Greg: I have a bias for action. That’s maybe not the best thing because sometimes it may be better to reflect, but reflection is also an action.

Imagine that you did something and then read a book on that topic and realized that was not the best solution. You might sit for hours thinking it over before going back to the people involved, and eventually write to the team that there is a better way.

But the project has an owner. They’re the ones who decide. You will commit to what they said because they are the owner and not you. But when I think I could do something better, I go to the owner in person and say that I have the time, and I can take it on and do it.

What happens if someone does not take full accountability for their work?

Greg: I have only one life, and I don’t want to waste it. I don’t work with people like that at all. With my project teams and my direct peers, we don’t let that kind of people in.

Everyone should decide where they want to work. Everyone can decide what kind of people they want to work with, and luckily, we are living in an age of abundance. There is an abundance of everything, there is an abundance of work, and there is an abundance of all the gadgets and other things. And this is up to us to prioritize what we want to do with our time.

Some people like working 8 hours, some 10 hours, 12 hours, it’s up to them. But it’s definitely up to you how you spend your work time. You can do something with that time or stare at your monitor for hours on end.

I’m not one to sit idle. And I believe that there are more people who like to do something with their lives. You just don’t want to see your life pass you by, right? That would be like watching TV with your life being an endless TV series.

So again, we have one life only, and we can do whatever we want with it. And I know that there are different ambitions, there are different attitudes. Some people just work for the paycheck.

There was a time when ownership in some countries was not common, and during those days, everyone would work for a paycheck. Luckily, we live in different times now.

So, all those people who really want to do something with their lives, want to have a meaningful career and want to do something meaningful in life, can now find the right place for them.

Does the level of accountability depend on your position in a company?

Greg: For me, it doesn’t matter whether you are an intern, junior, senior, or principal.

When I was around 24 years old, I was hired by Microsoft. And I would describe my first project as demanding. I had a teammate who was the opposite of someone who takes full ownership, and also, in terms of capabilities, he was not the best one.

Just imagine yourself in that situation. You have just been hired by Microsoft. These are your first two weeks at work. You are like 23 or 24 and have a demanding project to handle.

So, I went to my boss’s boss, who was the project manager, and I said that I would not work on that project with that person. The timeline is X. I have something to deliver, and I need to deliver it. But there is no way to work 16 hours per day. I already work 12 hours per day, so you either change it, or I will go and find another project.

And I was a junior consultant.

Luckily, together with my friends, I managed to build a company called Predica. And then, I founded another one. I think without the right attitude, that wouldn’t be possible.

Pawel Szczecki & Tomasz Onyszko & Andrzej Lipka & Grzegorz Chuchra table

Predica’s founders: Andrew, Paul, Tom, and Greg

How to change your attitude and start to take full accountability?

Greg: Just start doing it right away. I believe we cannot plan the change. We cannot say, “Okay, we will start thinking that way from September or the 20th of November”. You have to go step by step but start right now.

There are a lot of things you can do and a lot of books about introducing changes in your life to read. Changing your job is just one of the things. You move from one place to another, and you can draw a big red line between two different environments.

When you jump into a new role, you can just decide to behave differently. There are things you would like to change, and changing the environment is just one of those things. But again, you have to decide right now, make the first step and commit.

And there are books that can help. It’s about building this mental capacity and this muscle that will guide you to start doing things. Because, in the end, you need to have the pattern and get it done.

It’s the same with changing schools or life partners. You learn from your previous experiences, and you can either repeat the same mistakes or reflect upon them.

I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, really. And people from Predica who know me from five or ten years ago could say many things about me. For example, I was more demanding than I should have been, and so on. But that’s the process!

You can change if you are in an environment that supports the change, where you can get and give feedback and act on it. I think this is just an evolution of ourselves.

How can extreme ownership help build trust, especially in the remote work era?

Greg: I believe that working without trust is impossible. This is my attitude to everything. I work with many subcontractors, contractors, and different companies, and I always come with the attitude that I completely trust the other person. There were times when that didn’t work, but in most cases, it does.

I’m very honest, and I always give feedback instantly, whether it’s good or bad. If this is the first time, then ok, but if they make the same mistake again, I will not work with that person anymore.

Working remotely on a company computer in a garden accompanied by a cat_

Working remotely at Predica

How can someone rebuild your trust?

Greg: Once I give feedback, for me, it’s done. It’s history. I addressed one thing, and it could have been just a misunderstanding. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. That is my attitude.

There might be some private issues I am unaware of, such as health problems. There are so many things that I don’t know. That’s the reason I always take a misunderstanding into account.

But I say, okay, my trust was broken. I think this is because of that reason. Just please explain what that was about. It may be many different things, and then it’s done. Now we have a tabula rasa and can start from the beginning. Next time, remember that there is no point in doing the same thing.

I think it is called insanity when we talk about doing the same things and expecting different results. You work with the same person, and your trust is broken again, but you expect the next time it won’t be.

There are like 8 billion people around the world. You can really work with the people you trust, who have the same kind of approach, who would like to do something, who can respect you, and you can respect them.

We all have different styles. Some are introverts, and others are extroverts. Some like chaos, but others like structure, and you can build teams around strengths and avoid weaknesses.

You can work with all different styles as long as you can rely on the other person.

And again, you have one life. There is no point in wasting it by doing something mediocre. And I think we all have great capabilities to do amazing things, but they cannot be done if we just do shitty jobs. So, I hope we’ll all do what we are really meant to do.

Urszula Banasik & Izabela Chaber-Lipecka & Joanna Detko

Some of Predica’s leaders: Iza, Ula, and Asia

Summary

After reading the interview, you probably realized that extreme ownership principles play a huge role in our organization.

We believe that cultural alignment helps our teams thrive, so if you share the same mindset and attitude, don’t forget to check our vacancies and apply.

Hope to speak with you soon!

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