Wanted, new Chief Failure Officers

26th Jun 2013
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You are the boss of your startup, the CEO, whether it expands as chief executive officer or chief errand officer. The former title sounds cool, though the reality often is the latter, you running errands for almost everyone.

Why so? Because, as the founder, you like to be perceived as the font of wisdom, the last word in what is okay, and final approver of almost everything from strategy to snacks in the company. What an exalted position!

And, already, you are overflowing with ideas, presuming that all those around are there only to collect the spill-over into their empty receptacles. Also, you are so full of solutions that you are desperately waiting to unleash them on any unsuspecting colleague even before the word p-r-o-b-l-e-m is spelt out.

Not a nice situation to be in as an employee of such an organisation, especially for those who want to grow in life by being part of a startup. But then human beings adapt, and make the best of the situation. How? By starting to look at the founder as the chief errand officer.

Turn everything into a problem, and the CEO would jump in with the solution. You yawn and the errand boy comes with a cup of coffee! The trick is to say within the CEO’s earshot what you want to be done, whine about a chore on FB, or in extreme cases use email. And you can see a willing CEO taking the ‘monkey’ off your back to his. “When a person goes to the boss with a problem and the boss agrees to do something about it, the monkey is off his back and onto the boss’s,” reads the description of Kenneth H. Blanchard’s ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ on Amazon.

But what got me started to write this piece is an article titled ‘Why Bosses Need to be Problem Finders, Not Just Solvers’ by Michael ‘Dr. Woody’ Woodward in Fox Business. He talks about three techniques in Michael Roberto’s book ‘Know What You Don’t Know.’

One, circumvent gatekeepers by carving out time to review the raw data of your organisation, and even asking new and more junior staffers to conduct some routine briefings. Two, be an anthropologist, getting out there and talking to your people in a meaningful way to help foster a psychological and emotional connection. As Woodward paraphrases, “It’s about rolling up your sleeves, getting out on the shop floor and letting your people know you are genuinely interested in what they have to offer.”

And, three, the most important technique according to me, encourage useful failures. When it comes to failure, Roberto advises not to wait for a failure to create a learning opportunity, but instead create opportunities to fail; create experiments and pilots to test ideas in an environment that is safe, explains Woodward.


Failure officer

“This encourages employees to acknowledge and address failure in a positive way they can learn from, and will lead to a more open culture where employees will be more willing to share little errors before they erupt into major problems.” He emphasises that creating a genuinely strong connection to your business requires a willingness to go beyond just being a great problem solver by also becoming a great problem finder.

Wanted, therefore, new CFOs, the chief failure officers, in the place of chief errand officers.

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