The Muselet #15: If this were my company

An email lands in your inbox:

Since we have seen an increasing number of incidents recently where it is hard to automatically pinpoint the source and ownership of the problem, we have decided to put all engineers and managers on rotation for on-call for this type of incident. A few days per month you will be paged in case of such incidents, and are expected to investigate and either solve or delegate them to the appropriate owner.

Love,

Management

Hardly anybody likes to be on-call; not during the day, and especially not at night or weekends. Yet, everybody agrees it's something that needs to be done — ideally by somebody else. The email above outlines a particularly nasty case, because beside having to be on call it's likely you have to handle incidents unrelated to your direct area. For most, this is not going to be fun.

In essence: you're asked to do something you don't like.

How will you respond? Or, if you were “Love, Management”: how would you expect your people to respond to this?

Largely, this will depend on your scope of considering.

At the most primary level, a person's scope of considering is me: Crap, I have to be on call. I will be distracted at work or at night and I don't like it. How do I get out of this? Let me complain to my manager and see what happens.

The next level is team: Let's say you're a manager — crap, we never really have any incidents in my scope. The type of incidents referred to are tend to be somebody's else fault. Why do we need to be punished for somebody else's incompetence? I have to shield my team from this, let's see if I can exclude my team from this on call, because obviously, we don't belong there.

The next step up is company: Ok, this is not ideal, but we will just have to share the pain and do what's best for the company, while at the time figuring out a plan how we get rid of this long-term.

I think it’s not controversial to claim we’d love everybody’s scope of considering be at that company level. Amazon has even codified this expectation into their leadership principles as “act as an owner”: if this were your company, what would you do?

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don't sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say "that's not my job."

Even though Amazon is primarily known for its “customer obsession” leadership principle, this “act as an owner” one is probably my personal favorite.

If everybody had the maturity to consistently act as owners, most rules, guidelines and approval processes could simply be eliminated. This is also at the heart of Netflix’s “no rules” culture (Reed Hastings, Netflix’ CEO recently published a book about it which I bought but haven’t read yet).

So, especially when asked to do something you don’t enjoy: pause, and think: what would I do if this were my company? It is one of those classic cases of: deep inside we all know this is the right thing to do, but do we always follow this principle?