Jul 072011

The Value of Ownership

The Value of Ownership

We believe in ownership at Return Path.  One of our 13 core values, as I noted in my prior post, which kicks off a series of 13 posts, is:

We are all owners in the business and think of our employment at the company as a two-way street

We give stock options to every employee, and we regularly give additional grants to employees as well, as their initial grants vest, as they get promoted into more senior roles, and as they earn them through outstanding performance.  But beyond giving those grants out, we regularly remind people that they are part owners of the business, and we encourage them to act that way.  Among other mechanisms for this is an award we allow employees to give out to one another (through a regular mechanism we have for this, which I’ve written about in the past here), the Think Like an Owner award.

One great example of how this value appears in the workplace is that, more often than not, our people think about how to invest money rather than how to spend it.  I wish this happened 100% of the time, and we’re working towards that, but for the most part, people here don’t talk about things like “budget,” “headcount,” and “spend” the way they do at other companies.

Another example is around the “two-way street” concept written into the value statement.  We trust our employees to make every effort to do right by the company, and we make every effort to right by employees in return.  Among other things, we don’t have a formal vacation policy. People are encouraged to take as much vacation as they can, at least 3-4 weeks per year.  We track the days just to make sure people are in fact taking time off, but we don’t have a limit, and we also don’t let people accumulate compensation if they don’t take the time off.  We decided at some point – we don’t count how many hours people work, why should we count the hours they don’t?  We trust that people will get their jobs done, and if they don’t, they will suffer other consequences.  The result of this policy is that people are basically taking the same amount of vacation time they took before, maybe slightly more, but they are liberated from fretting over their time if they want or need extra days or half days here or there.

Two other examples are things we started more recently.  One is called OTB Day, which stands for “On The Business.”  Having a full day set aside each month that is meeting-free and travel-free is a way of carving time out for people to take a step back from their day-to-day jobs of working IN the business so every single employee can spend a relatively distraction-free day being thoughtful about working ON the business and figuring out how we can reinvent and reimagine things as opposed to just doing them.  The other is the concept of a Hack-a-thon.  A lot has been written about this topic on lots of other blogs, but fundamentally, this is about trusting that our whole employee population (these are open to everyone, not just engineers) can figure out how to spend two days’ time wisely working on “outside” projects.

The dividends just keep accumulating as we get larger and as the culture of ownership becomes more and more ingrained.  How owner-like do your employees feel about your company?