• David Strittmatter

Ownership - a key skill to develop

If you do not take ownership of your actions, your actions will eventually own you - Suman Rai


Summary:

  • Simply spoken taking ownership implies that the people around us can trust us to do the right thing

  • Taking ownership implies taking full responsibility for our careers. If there's someone to blame, it's ourselves - nobody else

  • Learning to take ownership is the prerequisite for being a proficient leader


Practical advice:

  • Stop blaming others if you cannot do your job. Take full responsibility for your tasks and their outcome

  • Be proactive and always have next steps ready

  • Communicate transparently and don't overpromise

Dear friend,


This week, I finished another consulting project. It's crazy how fast time is running, isn't it?

Being on vacation for a week (I went to Palma de Mallorca together with my girlfriend - if you have any recommendations, highly appreciated!), I've got plenty of time to reflect on the past weeks.


One thing my thoughts revolved around a lot was the skills needed to succeed in my job. In consulting, we've to build a versatile skillset to support our clients in dealing with their complex and ever-changing challenges. Thereby, a vital skill every consultant has to develop is ownership.


Taking ownership, though, isn't something exclusively crucial in management consulting but a skill everyone should develop to be successful in his/her job. In my opinion, it's among the most important skills to climb the career ladder, build a successful business, or master an expert role.


But what does taking ownership actually mean, why is it key to success, and how can we learn and advance this skill? In today's article, I will answer these 3 questions, give you a brief look into how taking ownership in consulting looks like, and provide you with my recommendations based on my learnings.


What does taking ownership mean?


Simply spoken taking ownership implies that the people around us can trust us to do the right thing.


It's about proactivity, i.e. taking the initiative. Taking ownership is when we believe that taking action is not someone else’s responsibility but we're accountable for the quality and timing of an outcome, even when we're working with others.


To make it more intuitive: How does not taking ownership look like? We wait for our boss to tell us what to do. We let others solve problems for which there's no clear responsibility. We blame our boss or colleagues if something doesn't work out instead of finding ways to manage it better. We care more about putting in the effort (working 8 hours) than about making an impact (getting actual results).


Also, taking ownership implies taking full responsibility for our careers. If there's someone to blame, it's ourselves - nobody else.


In consulting, taking ownership means being fully responsible and accountable for one's own workstream. Each consulting project has at least one workstream, which can be seen as a sub-project consisting of a series of tasks. While the outcomes (deliverables) of each workstream are clear up front, the way towards project completion can be full of uncertainties, making the job challenging. Despite all the challenges and uncertain circumstances, a consultant has to deliver.


Thereby, the real challenge comes from orchestrating numerous stakeholders and inputs while delivering in high quality and in time. For instance, imagine you want to conduct 3 expert interviews to provide your client with vital market insights as part of your workstream. Taking ownership means being fully responsible for the outcome, i. e. even if the experts have to postpone the interview at short notice or don't provide you with the insights you wanted to obtain, you have a plan B to deliver in high-quality and in time.


Why is it such an important skill?


First, taking ownership builds trust. Your manager and the managers of your managers will develop more and more trust once you consistently demonstrate ownership. Ownership isn't about doing all by yourself or about delivering the perfect result but making the best out of the situation with the available resources. By anticipating roadblocks, thinking ahead, always having a Plan B, and keeping your manager in the loop, you show control over the situation independent of the outcome.


Second, taking ownership means putting oneself in the driver's seat. Those who take ownership have control over their work and hence a higher degree of freedom.


Third, learning to take ownership is the prerequisite for being a proficient leader whether in an existing organization or in your own business. Practicing taking ownership without the obligation to take full responsibility has the great advantage that there's still someone whom you can rely on. The higher you climb the career ladder, the more severe mistakes in taking ownership become. Hence, the earlier in your career you start to practice this skill, the better.


How to demonstrate ownership


First, you should adopt the right mindset. Stop blaming others if you cannot do your job. Take full responsibility for your tasks and their outcome. Additionally, don't rely on your manager for task accomplishment. Of course, you should assume that they will support you, however, you shouldn't rely on them to deliver in high quality and in time.


Second, be proactive and always have next steps ready. If you've got a meeting, think about what you want to get out of it, how you can contribute, and what are possible next actions. Don't wait for your manager/colleagues to tell you what to do.


Third, communicate transparently and don't overpromise. It's key to keep your managers informed about your current situation. Let them know if you anticipate possible roadblocks or need help with something. As an owner, you're 100% responsible for the delivery in quality and in time. Hence, never overpromise. Once you raised certain expectations, you have to fulfill them no matter the circumstances.

Self-improvement tips based on my learnings. One article per week. No spam ever.

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