Remembering Fundamentals: Who Owns What

I was talking with somebody yesterday, a man I respect, who was disappointed with his management (not my company, by the way) because he’d been told he was taking "too much ownership."

I laughed. I thought that was a joke. How can too much ownership be bad?

"No, really," he said. "I make decisions on my own. I give people freebies." His upper management doesn’t like that. I don’t get it. In seminars I talk about how good planning process generates ownership. To me, having managers "own" their areas is the only way to grow a company.

What?! Do you want to have every micromanaged manager in the company coming to you all the time, asking you to validate every decision? That’s just plain crazy.

My experience was that Palo Alto Software grew by having other people take over and own parts of the business that I had done originally. Product development, documentation, and (what a relief!) marketing, and accounting, tech support; one by one we found people to own these areas.

I assume as you read this you’re thinking something like "well yes, of course, and everybody knows that … why waste my time with it?" However, this story I heard yesterday was a reminder. People forget those fundamentals that "everybody knows." Do they get jealous of good managers.

The person accused of "too much ownership" had more than doubled his group’s revenue in two years. But, apparently, he wasn’t checking in often enough with his superiors. What ever happened to "just do it?"  I also liked the image of a bunch of mice, each finding a place to eat on the cheese.

Am I wrong on this? Is it possible for a manager to have "too much ownership?"


  • Would You Make A Stupid Corporate Move Like This One? says:

    […] big-company behavior? Be honest: would you do that in your business? You think not, but I posted here years ago where one small business was uncomfortable with an employee who was taking “too […]

  • Michael says:

    Had so much fun commenting that I forgot why I started! Here is the straw that breaks most average camel's … you know what. How does a small to medium sized venture promote "ownership" or "buy in" across borders? More concretely, small US firms that are able to build great management … outside the US. Need examples (1) tech with international software defelopment teams, (2) internet based suppliers that want to do more than just air freight to the odd buyer from Germany. Any thoughts?

    Michael from Tartu

  • Michael says:

    Nice Thread!
    I think all would agree that once an (ad)venture moves beyond the "start up" phase, the biggest problem it faces is to make the transition from the founder(s)to a core management group. How to empower management to get this done? Kelly is right that this does not mean giving free reign. But at the same time, once the founders select a candidate for "core management" the selected person has to have some expectations of ownership over time. So, if he/she/it "buys into" the vision of the firm, he/she/it gets a piece of it. I think this "buying into" was the initial point. There cannot be too much talk that buy in is the future.


  • Kelly says:


    That's a tough one. I think you want your people engaged enough to want to promote the company and empowered enough to do so, but you don't want renegades making up their own agendas.

    I'd say IF the guy understands the corporate direction and is only trying to get them to the point they want to go to faster, great. But the journey is a lot of the branding for a company (it's not the destination…), so if he's trying to get to the right place but in the wrong way, that's "too much ownership."

    In addition, if he doesn't understand the corporate direction, that is their problem (mainly), not his, for not communicating well.

    To be totally simplistic: If I run a jazz wine bar and my Friday night manager brings in a grunge band with a really, really great following, I get big sales from that night, but a lot of my regulars walk in, scratch their heads, and go elsewhere. If the manager continues to go his own way, my Vision for the company is shortly wrecked.

    So as an abstract thing, not knowing the situation, either side could be right.



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