This is the first of a series of reposts of internal notes that I wrote while a PM at Facebook. This one concerns the culture of ownership in an organization.
The art of the deal
Have you ever closed a deal? It feels fucking great. Leaving the scene of the crime, you and your coworkers might divert course to a day-drinking establishment, where you might throw back a few too many celebratory cocktails and conveniently forget to return to work that day. Your boss probably won’t mind because you just did the thing you’ve been working on forever, just cemented the headline in your performance review anyways, and, hey, #focusonimpact is not about the hours you spend at your desk sober.
Perhaps you wait until the next day before you inform the rest of your org. You want to manage expectations and ensure that the ink is dry and the other guys haven’t backed out. So you wake up the next morning, hungover from victory wine, and start to draft a post:
Today, I’m so incredibly stoked to announce that we closed the deal with Jasper’s Market, a moment that our team has been working on for THREE HALVES and will cement our legacy as the best team in the history of Facebook. You’re welcome. I’d like to thank God, my manager, and an extended list of people who were minimally nice to me along the way.
In terms of self-congratulatory workplace notes, this is the one you’ve dreamed of forever, and you’re well-rewarded with dopamine. The likes roll in, every conceivable variant of “congratulations” gif floods the comments, and you start to daydream about what you might buy with the fat bonus that you’re definitely going to get when the spend materializes and you’ve changed the industry forever (which was what it was really about, not the money). Then, you go into the office, start your meeting calendar, and move on from your moment in the sun. Your manager glows with pride at your perseverance and his investment in growth that got you there.
But wait! (the story’s not over)
Later that day, an enterprising Product Manager wakes up in Menlo Park, checks her dashboards, and hears the news. OH MY GOD THEY CLOSED THE DEAL THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO CLOSE THE GAP FOR OUR H1 GOAL, she might think, before sharing your original post to her team group and tagging the engineers, designers, data scientists, researchers, and product marketers that first started thinking about the thing you sold eighteen months ago. Somewhere in the ads building, champagne pops at breakfast and she has a few too many glasses, but not too many to be too foggy during her H2 brainstorm later that day. These are the days she lives for.
Reading the news, the engineering team flashes back to long nights at the office almost a year ago where the technical challenges seemed insurmountable. The researchers think about the moment they broke through to fully understand the problem and ask the right questions. The designers think about the endless rounds of iteration. The data scientists remember the fear they’d once had that they’d picked the wrong goal. PMM’s remember the inbound and first suggesting that this might be an opportunity. Everyone ends the day satisfied and happy that they get to do their dream job. It’s victory in every sense. Then, the brainstorm happens, roadmapping commences, and each person on the team starts to daydream about repeating the same process in the future by building a new thing to spur a new deal that another team might close.
What happens when we build
As people and as teams, our focus naturally starts with ourselves. When we internalize accomplishments, we naturally emphasize our own contributions and how they contribute to our own stories. When kept in check, this is what keeps our performance system functioning. If we think about our own contribution first, then we look for places where we can drive incremental impact and focus there, lots of individual teams/people, with complementary skillsets, driving forward together as a team to accomplish a mission using their individual talents. Great, right?
The blessing and curse of this dynamic is that we feel accomplishments narrowly within the scope that we understand them.
“Ownership,” in the sense that we feel it in our bones, is infinite, where the team that closed the deal feels just as responsible as the team who built the thing, and the designer who designed the thing feels just as much as the data scientist who set the goal that it beat.
Yet, separated by miles and org structures, this dynamic can also have drawbacks when people don’t recognize that it exists. Without the explicit empathy that a CSM feels a product’s success and failure as intensely as she does, a Product Manager might fail to consider feedback or, worse, dismiss sales as a mere instrument of her strategy.
When, however, we understand that everyone along the chain is equally invested, amazing things will happen through almost limitless trust. Trusting that we only hire the best people in the world, we’ll assume mutual interest and investment, and truly collaborate to create the best products possible. We’ll see the fire that we see in ourselves in others and know that they want it as bad as we do.
Implications for product building
Re roadmapping: as the folks who plan our product strategy, we’re at the top of this chain. It’s up to us to build a culture in our teams that values every link, and understands that motivation and shared ownership are the most important tools we have. In the products we build, it’s up to us to build tight feedback loops with the downstream folks most passionate about them, and to enable everyone around us to grow and do their best work.
As we plan our go-to-market, we should internalize the *really great fucking feeling* of getting a client to make a major shift, and ensure that everyone around us is as invested as possible in feeling that feeling together. We should share victories, give abundant credit, and #NotShipTheOrgChart
We should take feedback seriously and understand that it comes from a place of personal investment.
We should remember that we’re all here to build kickass products and are all super proud of the roles we play.
This is a culture of builders, and we all feel ownership over what we ship. That’s what I mean by infinite ownership, and these are lofty principles that I aspire to.