I was recently in Houston for a new business pitch and had the opportunity to have dinner with the CEO of a potential new client. The conversation covered a number of things, eventually landing on the topic of AD:60’s approach to ensure each of our team members objectives are aligned to the success of the company. As we discussed the pros and cons, he asked what my attitude was towards team members who do what the job asks versus producing results.
What a fantastic question, I thought. Everyday we’re expected to “do our job” and are evaluated by how well we perform to the job description. It makes sense since we’re hired to do a role with the expectation that doing the job we’re told to do, will produce an outcome of things getting done. Clients are happy and we continue on for another day…essentially it’s SAFE.
As a CEO though, playing it safe doesn’t reflect the mission of AD:60. Sure, I want my team to do the job they were hired to do, but that’s not the attitude I want them to have every day when they walk through the door. Instead, my hope is for everyone who works at AD:60 to feel vested and comfortable to push for better, not safe. Safe, is comfortable, it’s the knowns. But then that means we’ll always just stay where we are. Being better, doing better means accepting that we’ll be wrong or make mistakes on occasion. Through the iterations, the conversations, the missteps, we’re learning what does work and that’s why our process has multiple rounds and revisions. Mistakes are expected to happen, it’s how we produce the quality of work we do today because we get better each and every time.
I figured if our clients measure us on our ability to produce results, but accept we may take risks and not always nail it the first time, why shouldn’t our team be held to the same standard? This is why at AD:60:
You won’t be fired for being wrong, but you will be let go for not having an initiative.
Many will look at mistakes as a step backwards, but as a start up and now small business, our mistakes have formed the foundation of how we operate today. It’s why we believe in this philosophy. To showcase this in practice, below is an incident that occurred at AD:60.
A Major Failure Leads to New Innovation.
Over a year ago, we were developing an Android application for a partner that we had just launched a successful iOS app. Riding the high, my head of mobile presented a concept of building the app with an unconventional approach. The value of the approach would allow for future cross platform support as new features were introduced. We all agreed it would be challenging, but the payoff was worth it, both for the client and for the future of how the agency builds applications.
It was a disaster! The approach not only blew up in our face, the team was forced to work multiple long nights for weeks fixing issues and eventually, I was forced to credit our partner due to missed timelines. In the moment, I told myself we would never take such a risk and instead stick to the basics and build products within the foundation provided to us. But a few months later, my mobile team came to me with a learning that was only exposed during the project’s post mortem.
During the chaos, the team had identified an alternative approach that would utilize web technologies to capture the business logic and foundation of the app development. When done properly, our iOS and Android team could become a single mobile engineering team that was able to work cross-platform.
Even better, it now allowed our web development team to get involved which gave us a massive leap in capacity without needing to bring on new bodies. Ultimately, it was a huge win that has fundamentally changed the way we approach every project.
And so I welcome mistakes and understand it’s my job to manage them. Calculated risks should help us continue to evolve and innovate. I think Paul Arden’s quote below sums it up nicely.
“If you can’t solve a problem, it’s because you’re playing by the rules.”
― Paul Arden
Hi! I’m Alex, a seven-year veteran entrepreneur who has recently become a first time CEO. I’ve made it my goal in 2017 to share my experiences in this new role. I look forward to your feedback and sharing this experience with you.