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Egoless Work Cultures

Submitted by Kamal Wickramanayake on February 15, 2007 - 07:00

A person’s decision on what is good and what is bad is contextual. And hence, among other factors, the reactions and dynamics of people in a workplace are much determined by the organizational culture. Culture sets a base for the people to reason and guides them in determining what their reactions should be for various forces external to the individual. Thus, growing the concept of egoless working in an organizational culture may prove to be fundamental as a technique in boosting the performance of individuals and the organization in general.

The Concept

The concept of egoless work is not new. It is the separation of ego (i.e. self) from the work done by a person. Such a view enables a person to accept criticisms made by others over the work that he/she performed with no negative feelings. It is so because he/she assumes that what is criticized is not the person who did the work, but the work.

This is good because it creates an environment where one can proactively demonstrate that he/she is willing to accept suggestions from others to improve. And others feel comfortable in suggesting how to do the work better. In short, the worker improves and the work improves producing personal and organizational benefits.

The Question And The Inconsistency

In reality, a person’s work is what and who the person is. This is for the simple fact that a person is realized by others in the environment through the behavior. And hence, trying to distinguish between a person and his work is fundamentally questionable in the context of giving a good or poor comment on the work. In my humble opinion, saying the work is poor and the worker is poor have no differences at all. With no doubt this is the same picture that appears in one’s mind when “his/her work” is being criticized. There is no escape not to feel guilty once a person finds out that he/she has done some crappy work. But a case of deliberate lousy work will be different and let's not consider such cases here (Deliberate lousy work in an egoless culture is another issue to be handled with care though.).

Due to the very above reason, I am compelled to assume that "egoless work" is a tree without roots.

Another reason is that if "egoless work" is practiced by an organization with full precision, what can happen when you do some remarkable good work? You don't own it! The organization should not credit you! Isn't this controversial where in all legitimate organizations, people who do remarkable work are recognized. Such recognition is assumed to be a fundamental need to take the organization to another level of success.

The above represents an inconsistency in the accepted norms: Poor work, you are not there. Good work, you are the man! This is the second reason why I say that "egoless work" is a tree without roots. 

Still, I suggest that "egoless work" concept can be used by individuals and organizations.

The Solution

In my point of view, what should happen is accepting the truth but build a conceptual foundation to practice "egoless working" as a means of improvement.

Accepting the truth is: Work and self cannot be separated. If your work is good, you are good and should be praised. If your work is crappy, something is missing in you and that should be fixed. One needs to carefully analyze the forces which led to the issue though. For example, if you could not compile the best report since another person did not send you some data, in most of the cases it might not be your fault. But if you did not at least call the person to get such data, then it is your fault. In any case, someone is seen behind the problem.

The solution is to consider "egoless working" as a purposely built conceptual foundation (Note that I use the term "built" to signify that
egoless work" is not found by default). An individual can accept to work accordingly with an open mind. Taking the criticisms as opportunities to identify and overcome the present deficiencies will surely boost the personal growth. An organization can inform the employees to follow "egoless working" as a norm and create the correct environment for them to practice it. That will lead to the always needed employee and organizational improvements.

The Correct Environment

What are the ground rules in constructively criticizing someone (i.e. the work of someone) in a workplace without losing the faith, respect or dignity of either party?

To get the best outcome, an organization needs to proactively grow this concept in its culture. This is for the fact that not all employees are the same. Some will be able to individually embrace the concept. But some others will need support. The support should come in a form where a worker is pushed to think that such criticism is an accepted organizational norm for improvement and all other employees are just going to treat it like that. No employee is going to look at him/her with a crooked eye. This signifies why an organization should proactively grow this concept and sustain it in the culture.

Such an environment improves the acceptance of constructive criticism and positively encourages a person to find solutions for his faults given that it is the norm and what is practiced by all others without reluctance. “getting disturbed” is now turned into “Thanks, let me correct it. Do you find any other issues in what I did?”.


Successfully integrating this concept into the organizational culture provides value:

  1. Individual performance improvement
  2. Organizational performance improvement
  3. Reduced reluctance in not communicating the problems to their creators
  4. Increased problem accountability
  5. Quick solution finding and issue correction
  6. Increased employee retention/Happy workers
  7. Less frustration

A Last Warning!

Evaluate the present culture of your organization before you apply the concept of egoless working. In an inferior culture, egoless working may constitute yet another reason for not to do the work right.