Why Every Person You Hire Should Feel Like An Owner Of Your Company

In the startup world, who you hire and how can have important implications for your company culture.

As our company, Honey, started to scale, many in the investment community told us to hire faster. We decided not to do that. The reason was, to accomplish our goals and continue doing things “The Honey Way,” we knew we needed the right kind of people.

So the question became, who are the right kind of people for a young startup?

In our experience, it’s the sort who take genuine ownership over their work—who, in a sense, treat their role as a startup in and of itself. This type of employee sees the company as an extension of themselves. As a result, they hold themselves accountable to bettering it.

Finding these kinds of people takes time and a more thoughtful hiring approach, but the result pays off. In fact, we’ve since come to see it as essential to any company’s ultimate success. It’s a means of fostering a culture in which ownership is valued and accountability is championed.

Here’s why.

Employees who feel like owners produce the best work.

Accountability inspires urgency.

At Honey, we encourage all our employees to approach their work as owners of the company (because they are). We even go so far as to ask employees to view Honey’s money as their own.

We’ve found if your employees feel like they contribute tangibly to your company’s success, they’ll work consciously to maximize their impact and efficiency. They’ll work to ensure that what they deliver the most purposefully drives progress and growth.

In our experience, pigeonholing employees in very specific, static roles achieve the opposite effect: it gives employees tangible ceilings, which limit productivity. What you want, instead, is for your team to feel like anything is possible. If you hire a data analyst, it should be possible for that person to one day become a product designer, so long as they’ve shown that capability and passion for the role as an owner of its success. Because, usually, that kind of growth and subsequent increase in responsibility is a product of hard work, of meeting goals, and of delivering for a team that’s relying on you.

Accountable employees help you in areas you didn’t know you needed help with.

Here’s an example: this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday holidays constituted our biggest weekend as a company to-date. We serviced an enormous amount of traffic––more than most other sites since we integrate with close to 40,000 different stores.

You always worry about massive spikes in online traffic; no matter how much you test and prepare, production systems introduce certain variables. This year, however, because everyone on our team approached the weekend as a kind of “All Hands On Deck” situation, we plugged every potential problem before it caused damage. Multiple people across our teams spotted irregularities and sought to fix them on their own, without being asked. As a result, our consumers enjoyed a seamless experience all weekend.

That doesn’t happen if employees aren’t invested in your company’s success. And it definitely doesn’t happen if employees only worry about their own specific set of responsibilities.

For those of us on the leadership team, knowing we could rely on our team in this way was a huge relief.

At Honey, we screen for skills that lend themselves to this kind of “executive responsibility” in the interview process.

It’s fairly simple to screen for a potential hire’s mental toughness during their interview—whether they’re capable of plowing through roadblocks or going that extra mile.

In fact, in our experience, this is a necessary part of hiring. It’s how you find people who ship software products as opposed to simply writing or designing them.

Don’t get me wrong, designing beautiful code is important. But even better is employees capable of coupling their creative skills with follow-through.

What we do at Honey to find these kinds of employees is test them against our six core values. For example, one of our values is “Give a Damn.” It’s a concept boiling down to whether or not you abstain from completing a task or fixing a problem simply because you weren’t asked to.

See, we want employees who decide to step up, in this sense, because they care. We want developers who don’t give up on their code after it goes live. Developers who don’t write off issues as someone else’s problem.

One result of this is that we end up being more selective in the hiring process. But, personally, we’d rather have one employee capable of operating at 110% for small bursts of time and who really cares about the success and health of our company than 10 employees who operate at 40% and are indifferent to our mission.

Remember, though: none of this will happen if you don’t lead by example.

It’s important to remember that if you want employees who operate like CEOs, you need to embody this kind of nose-to-the-grindstone mentality yourself.

When employees see their leaders hopping on a product issue, sitting down to help an engineer identify a bug, or even pause to take an empty coffee mug back to the kitchen, it instills in them the sense that your company really is a team, and that everyone on it is working hard in service of the same goals.

And not only the goals related to any potential exit, but the more sincere and important goals of delivering on your primary mission, living your core values, and providing your users with a valuable product or service. We’re building this company for the long run. So our main focus is on how to make it the best place anyone has ever worked. Any exit the company might have is just icing on the cake.

Making ownership part of the ethos

That feeling of genuine co-investment compounds and spreads, and, in time, becomes an ethos.

As we’ve scaled, that’s what our team has sought to create and foster at Honey. We’ve built a culture and environment made up of people who’re all invested in our company’s success. Our team is built on the value of willing to do whatever it takes to further it.

Honey is currently looking for more people who fit this mold. If this article resonates with you, we’re certainly looking to talk! Go to joinhoney.com/careers to learn more. 

Glen is the Chief Operating Officer at Honey, where his main responsibility over the last 3 years has been to scale the company rapidly and efficiently while focusing on a culture of excellence.  Prior to Honey, Glen co-founded and raised $3M for the social media app, Convoz, alongside Grammy award-winning musician Chamillionaire. He was previously at Twitter heading up their enterprise relationships for the data business, Gnip, where Glen was working prior to its acquisition by Twitter.  In the last 20+ years, Glen has shipped software at Microsoft, Palm, Good Technology, Sprint, and America Online. He received his MS from George Washington University.

  • Originally published December 28, 2018, updated April 26, 2023