Ask for Forgiveness, not Permission

I just saw this blog post on Venture Hacks –  – and I loved it.  It is such a big part of the empowerment-focused environment that fosters greatness.  Nivi focused on how to enable this within your development team.  His thoughts were completely on target, certainly anybody doing Agile programming has already implemented many of these thoughts, or at least should have.

But what about the rest of the organization?  What about sales?  Can you really trust those sales people to not give away the store, make a bad deal, overpromise something that Engineering can’t deliver on?

Of course you should enable this behavior.  Of course, rules exist here too.  Here are mine:

  • You cannot ask forgiveness for anything that is legally or morally wrong

Legally wrong, that’s an easy one to enforce.  These are documented laws.  But morally wrong?  That’s a slippery slope with salespeople, right?  I don’t think so.  First off, building the right corporate culture is critical, and whenever I recruit and hire sales people, I want people who employ the same moral code that I would.  If not, I know they will be destructive to company morale and vision.  So, trust that they would do the same thing you would do – and if they don’t, get rid of them.

  • You get to make stupid mistakes

Well, let’s be clear – as long as you didn’t know it was a stupid thing to do before you did it.  Essentially, let people try new things, and let them fail.  Then work with them to adjust based on the results.  A fast way to grow exponentially vs. making them learn all the “right” ways to do things.  Speaking of which, where is that list of all the right way to do things? 🙂

  • You only get to make stupid mistakes once

No “three strikes and your out” policy for customer-facing employees.  One of the beautiful things about empowerment is you give the person the ability to make good or bad decisions. If the decision is bad but isn’t morally or legally wrong, then coach your employee on why they made the mistake and how it should be handled going forward.  If it happens again, get rid of them.  Smart people learn from their mistakes. 

  • Responsiveness and the Customer come first

Success at a startup is all about the customer.  Make sure everybody at your company knows this, but especially your sales team.  I want my team to have answers to our customers by the time the question leaves the customers lips.  The best sales people know what the customers wants/needs and provides it to them – sometimes before the customer even knows they need it.  This requires quick thinking, frictionless selling and sometimes making things up as you go.  Are you going to make your customer-facing team come back and ask about anything that isn’t already documented, or are you going to let them help create the document?  I vote for the latter.  Post-mortems can always be done after the fact to revisit and improve upon decisions that have already been made.  But let’s make those decisions, judge/evaluate the data, and make changes based on that data rather than opinions.

Great things come from empowering people to always try to do the best they can, particularly when there isn’t a roadmap already in place.  The feeling of doing something new and succeeding is exhilarating for anyone, so let your entire team experience it early and often!