Extreme Ownership: Scaling and Sharing Growth Responsibilities

I’ve just gotten back from Russia, where I had an awesome time speaking at the Epic Growth Conference! If you’ve visited Russia before, I’m sure you’ll understand if I keep this post relatively short!

I’ve spoken a lot about setting up and scaling a multi-disciplinary team in the growth department. Over the past months, I’ve thought a lot about how we can get the absolute most out of our team setup at Recruitee.

When you’re working in a more senior role at a fast growing startup or scale up, it can sometimes be difficult to focus on the big picture, with gravity always pulling you towards micromanagement.

If you work at a larger, more established company, chances are you have processes and a stable team setup that allow you to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture. But what do you do if your team is constantly growing and changing?

My answer for the growth department has been extreme ownership.

What is ‘extreme ownership’?

Simply put, extreme ownership is the idea that every major process, project, experiment or task is ‘owned’ by someone in the team and that everyone in the team, no matter how junior or senior has ownership of something.

The concept is nothing particularly new and there are a lot of companies out there that already do this in one way or another.

In our growth department, we’ve started testing this by making sure that every project and every experiment has an ‘owner’. An owner is someone who makes sure that the project or experiment gets done by the given deadline. How it gets done is up to them (though they still need ensure that the appropriate feedback loops are maintained). They are fully responsible.

Every 2 weeks, we run a 2 hour growth sprint in which we align on the OKR progress and plan out our projects and experiments accordingly. We then assign owners and they go on to making the project or experiment happen.

The important thing with ownership is that it doesn’t mean that that person also has to do all the execution. They are free to delegate individual tasks as they see fit. In theory, you can own a project without doing any of the execution.

The decision to assign ownership is usually made on the basis of expertise, relevance and availability. I always ensure that everyone owns something, no matter how new they may be to the team.

The advantages of extreme ownership

Other than the fact that it sounds cool, extreme ownership has some considerable advantages for growing teams.

First off, it prevents a situation in which you have a few people who are overwhelmed because they need to coordinate every single project, process and experiment. I’ve seen this happen at startups many times before and it always leads to burnout, employee churn or someone dropping the ball due to being overwhelmed.

Secondly, it creates a situation in which everyone has responsibility and the chance to prove themselves in a way they couldn’t if they were purely executing all the time. It can also set the stage for the best performers to take on more medior and senior responsibilities further down the line.

Finally, everyone gets to have input into how things are done, which allows for new approaches to be tested and different ways of doing things to be explored.

What to be cautious of with extreme ownership

Extreme ownership is something that is born out of necessity and therefore tends to work best in startups and scaling companies. If you‘re working for a larger business, you’re going to have to make sure that extreme ownership doesn’t clash with the processes and hierarchies that are in place. It’s never fun having to clean up a mess after somebody goes rogue and bypasses the company’s internal structures.

Also, whilst you do want everyone to increasingly take on responsibilities, it is important that your best executors don’t spend all their time coordinating or managing the projects and experiments that they own. They are best meant to be executing after all.

Finally, extreme ownership is something that requires a lot of trust, initiative and self-sufficiency. Making everyone responsible for something is not a given and you need to make sure that you allocate the right ownership to the right people. Otherwise you risk creating more problems than you solve.

Extreme ownership isn’t for everyone. Luckily. I have a great team of self-starters who I can trust and rely on.