Creative LeadershipEngaging CultureMedia Production

Does Your Team Have a Stake in the Outcome?

It's the best way to silence internal critics...

Early in my career I did something that I’m still ashamed of, even after all these years. I was given the opportunity to travel with a medical mission organization to the headwaters of the Amazon River in Brazil to document a remote village and the missionary efforts to reach them. It was an amazing trip. The mission team was headed by Barry Dennison, and we were gone for more than a month. We flew into Manaus, Brazil – about halfway up the Amazon. Then took a light plane for a few hours further up river. Then we charted a freighter for two more days, and finally traveled by dugout canoe for the last day.

I was told later by executives at Sony that to their knowledge, I was the first person to take a video camera to the headwaters of the Amazon River. We were as remote as I’ve ever been, and in the pre-cellphone days, went literally a month with no communication with the outside world whatsoever.

From a logistics perspective, Barry and his team set it all up. They arranged the transportation, hotel, food, guides, etc, and my job was to do all the filming. I did a good job with the shooting of the project, but since I had no stake in the logistics, I complained about everything. As a twenty-something newbie, I acted like I was an entitled “expert” and wasn’t happy with the airline schedule, hotels (or hammocks in the jungle), food – anything.

Later, I realized what a putz I had been, but by then it was too late. Years later I found Barry again, and apologized for my awful behavior. But that realization taught me something very important:

The people who complain the most, are the people who have no stake in the outcome.

People whose job depends on performance don’t complain much because if something fails, they will take part of the blame. But the members of your team or employees in your office that aren’t directly responsible for the success or failure of your project or company, are usually the first ones to whine and moan.

Constructive criticism is good. But whining and complaining sow seeds of strife that will destroy a project, company, or organization.

So make sure every member of your team has a stake in the outcome. Make sure they’re responsible for something that matters. It will make a dramatic difference in their attitude – and your chances of success.

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25 Comments

  1. Phil,

    This post hit me square between the eyes today and popped them wide open. This succinctly encapsulates one primary reason that a number of my co-workers (myself included) do so much whining and complaining around my organization. We have very little stake in the outcome (i.e., As a communications director and graphic designer, I'm merely expected to take whatever [crap] emerges from the higher-ups and 'make it look pretty']. There is very little understanding of the value of someone like me in this position.

    I get it now … and further confirms my suspicion that I should either stake a claim for myself, ask for more authority and use it, or find another opportunity elsewhere.

    1. I totally get it Roland. That’s a frustrating place to be, and if leaders could catch a vision for helping people have a stake in the outcome, they’d be amazed at the higher level of work they’d see out there. Great comments, and you’re right – if you can’t make change happen there, it might be time to look elsewhere…

  2. My daughter and one of my closest friends are having difficulties in their jobs with several individuals who are constantly complaining, attacking, backbiting, just being down right mean.

    I always wondered why this happens but never even thought about the lack of having a stake in the company. Wow!

    That WAS an eye opener.

    But…what do you do if you work for a company that doesn’t get this and people are engaging in uh….bad behavior…like you were. What do you do?

    Remaining Steadfast,
    Dominique
    http://anunlikelyperspective2.squarespace.com

    P.S. I created an award for my new blog of the week award and I was able to add your pic and the name of your blog to it. Looks pretty professional!

    1. That’s a tough call because you can’t always teach the leadership to respect the team and give them a stake in the outcome. Sometimes, casual conversations at the right time can be effective. But if they can’t catch that vision, then it might be time to move to a better place.

  3. Years ago I hired a seasoned cameraman to shoot a major documentary for me across the world. As producer I made sure we often stayed in really good hotels, flew in nice airline seats and were well fed. (But we worked extremely hard too.) We were often gone 2-3 weeks per trip. One day in Belgrade (before Tito's death and the fall of the Iron Curtain) we checked into our simple hotel rooms. The hotel was run down, not all it could have been, yet we weren't exactly living in the jungle with the Kombai tribe. The cameraman complained, "I want a better room." He felt he deserved his luxuries. Ok, it happens. He didn't want to "rough it." But soon thereafter, this person was no longer cameraman on the project. Ego & entitlement (and complaining) had become more important than a great project shot in some amazing places.

    This person had no stake in the project other than shooting. His attitude became, "What's in it for me? I'm a great cameraman, you're lucky you got me. I'm doing you a favor." I never worked with this person again, and they lost scores of potential production trips and freelance revenue. My next cameraman was like a breath of fresh air: no matter the circumstances, he worked his tail off, never complained, was funny, and a pure joy to work with, no matter good hotel or bad. I look back at our shoots across the world and I can't think of one bad moment, fight or disagreement. He is my friend to this day even though our paths have diverged over time.

    Working in media is a lot like a foxhole in battle – you're all thrown in together by choice or circumstance. A lot of it is attitude. If you're a complainer, it becomes infectious. All of a sudden, everyone is complaining. But if you have a common goal where everyone has a stake – great or small – then teamwork starts to happen. And that usually leads to success (unless we're talking the Titanic.)

    1. Great story, and your lesson is true. I really think it’s a leader’s job to share the vision for the project and allow them to participate in the outcome. That doesn’t necessarily mean a bonus or more money. A “stake” could be a wide range of things that makes them feel ownership.

  4. I'm not always crazy about the supposed benefits of "stake in the company".  Sometimes stake in the company is a bad thing.

    One of the things that has horrified me in recent years has been situations where companies compensate employees with their own stocks, and even prevent employees from ditching these stocks.  This can be a nightmare.  Basically, when the company tanks, the employees entire financial worth is lost.  They lose their retirement nest egg at the same time they lose their jobs.  Worse, the CEOs are busy dumping and diversifying, because they can.  It has always made me queasy to watch.  When folks tell me how happy they are to own stock in the company they work for, I never know quite what to say.  They seem to think this is a good thing, and it's not.

    Another tragic circumstance is excessive personal identification with the corporate entity.  I've witnessed knock down drag outs between church members and the rest of a congregation over the direction of the church.  The individual believes it's his/her church, and by that I mean his/her way or else!!!  These individuals employ winner take all, no holds  barred strategies to make sure their will is done within the church.    It's their identity that is at stake when the church does something that veers from their ideal.   For these individuals, the stakes are very, very, high.  Too high, I think.

    In general, it's good to make sure everyone feels responsible for mission achievement.  This is best done by making sure each person has a meaningful task, and that the value of their effort is recognized.  This is the kind of stake in the company Mr. Cooke advocates, and it's generally a good thing.  When it's overdone, coworkers will fight tooth and nail to make sure the mission is done right (their way).  Also, poor leaders will shift blame and harsh consequences onto subordinates, forgetting that assignment can be delegated but responsibility cannot. 

    In this, as in many things, balance matters.

    1. Well said Elizabeth. There are excesses – as in everything – and balance is key. However, I also believe your first priority is to get the “right” people on the team. When that happens, the chances of abuses their feeling of ownership are far lower. (Also – for the record – when companies give their employees stock, but heavily restrict how they can use that stock, in my book that’s not a stake in the company. That’s just an illusion.)

  5. In retrospect, I think we're missing something in the thread of this subject that goes beyond having a stake in the outcome and employees complaining. It goes beyond Phil whining as he goes up the Amazon or my previous post about a cameraman believing he was owed a better hotel room in Belgrade. What I believe is missing is a discussion about groups "doing the right thing." This can mean many things, from having a true plan for your media ministry, listening to your staff and workers, spending money wisely, living a life to those outside and inside that shows true conviction, and doing away with the lavishness and perks in the midst of laying off staff or asking people (without blinking) to go without reasonable salaries. To be fair, I think Phil that you have tried to say this in numerous posts about shooting ourselves in the foot, and why ministries do what they do. At heart, I think you and this blog are pushing groups and its leaders to clean up their act and do the right thing.

    Chris Busch had a great comment months back I will hold with me till I die: "We value people." This speaks volumes about organizations, churches and ministries – We Value People. These two thoughts should be immensely intertwined in how a ministry and its leadership behaves and operates: "Doing the right thing + We value people." Aren't these precepts/tenets of the Gospel? Aren't these principles beyond just mere complaining and having a stake in the outcome?

    Is this too much to ask?

  6. Ah Dr. Phil (wait, that’s taken, sorry)…

    This is so huge. Thank you for blogging about it.

    I have been on all sides of this one. I have multiple times worked in Southern Sudan and the Darfur region of that country, carrying everything (video gear, food, survival stuff, tapes, clothes, tent, etc) in a backpack, sleeping outside, filtering water, getting malaria — because I had bought into the vision, and I believed in helping those people. I’ve worked in 65 nations and the people who took (or sent) me to those places would do it again because I never complained and saw everything as a challenge, and felt I had a stake in the lives of the people I was shooting — whether they were slaves in Sudan; had lost everything to hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons or volcanos; dying of aids in Zambia; famines in Ethiopia; wars in Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan; a few coups in Central America… you get the idea… plenty of opportunity to whine.

    And then there were places where all the decisions were made by a triumvirate, there were more secrets than the CIA, staff didn’t know why anything happened and when they asked questions they never got a straight answer. There was so much complaining behind the scenes… it’s cancerous.

    My advice: if you are a leader in an organization, open up and talk to your people and excite them with the vision that stirs you. If you are one of the masses within the organization, either get with the vision or leave. Do not try to change it. Do your very best work with the very best attitude while you look for a new job — don’t complain while you are still there, and do not complain about them after you leave. However, if this is a trend in your life and career, maybe the problem is with you, and you need some personal, spiritual or career counseling.

    Complaining brings death.

  7. Both my father and grandfather worked as missionary pilots with the Ticuna Indians in the Amazon. I grew up there as an MK. That's so neat that you've been there. I plan to return one day and shoot part of a feature film in Benjamin Constant were I grew up. What tribe did your team document?

  8. The Gospel is so simple….we do "stumble right over it."  Whether it is our modern age with gadgets and quick fixes or the Amazon jungles or the "back side of the desert" plowing a field in the tractor headlights of a Kansas wheat farm, there are plenty of Martha and disciple complaining opportunities.  I think we try to live the Christian life and make our organizations work without much thought and help from the Holy Spirit.  We often are so fixated on ourselves…my calling, my mission, my needs, my purpose, my world…my, my, my….where does dying to self and "taking up our cross, daily" fit in?  We are sometimes such a sorry lot (I  put myself in there, too).

    We don't do the "right thing" because we are so "earthbound."  We try to "gain the world" with the "my, my, my" and probably in the process risk the survival of our own souls.

    Thanks, Phil, this blog spoke volumes.

  9. Honest Question then. 

     If the my, my, my element is distressing, why the willingness to defend lavish televangelists and measure the success of their ministry by the prosperity in your life you attribute to it?

    I'm not trying to get a dig in or start an argument.  I'd be interested in knowing how you reconcile those, to me, seemingly disparate positions.

  10. No different than Jesus living a selfless earthlife and at the same time allowing a "year's worth wages of oil" to be poured upon his feet.  The, "my, my, my," could include earthly possessions, if one is consumed with idolatry.  We have plenty of wealthy OT and NT men and women who were devout in their service to Jehovah God.  Conversely, we have the rich young ruler who worshipped the creation more than the creator.   Either way, your preconceived judgement of my heart has no relation to the jist of Phil's blog.  On the otherhand, if your question was truely honest, then I have given you an honest answer.

  11. I said it was an honest question.

    To demonstrate that, I'll let your answer stand and not question it further here.  I've never been able to honestly reconcile the two positions.

  12. Hi Phil,

    I came back to read this again a few days after reading it the first time.

    Can I pretty please ask for a follow up article? 😛

    I would love you to write an article that explains further how individual contributors can be given or acquire their ‘stake’ in the outcome? I know you don’t mean financially. So how do leaders ensure each person in their team is being given the opportunity to use their skillset in the interests of the best outcome? What would it have looked like to give ’20-year-old Phil’ a stake in the outcome of the Amazon project?

    Also, I’d love your perspective on how leaders can respond to ‘ideas and suggestions’. I’m working in an organisation which has killed ideas in the boardroom because whenever someone comes up with an idea or suggestion the chairperson says, “great idea, you can investigate that.” Instead of selecting the most appropriate team member to action the idea, the task is simply dropped on the individual who offered the idea and they may not have the skills, experience, authority or connections to actually see it through without the support or buy-in of leadership. So I guess what I’m saying is, a leader reading this article could misinterpret the concept of ‘stake in the outcome’ as ‘well you suggested it, so you can do it,’ which I don’t think is what you meant.

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