Jonttu’s thoughts on failure

Tête-à-tête with the CEO

In part three of my series of interviews with Forenom’s CEO Johannes Kangas, or Jonttu, we talked about trust, objectives, and failures. While I was writing this article, a major development project that Forenom was involved in reached its successful conclusion. It took a failed project to bring this one to fruition. Today, it looks like Forenom will be able to make its housing capacity available for the sharing economy.

To start off, we talked about what is a CEO’s most important task. For Jonttu, it is showing an interest in employees’ results and activities and trusting them to do their best. Showing an interest and constantly looking over your employees’ shoulders are two very different things, and in a modern workplace where

people work different hours around the clock, a manager can never be physically present at all times. And although admittedly there are times when physical presence is called for,  “snoopervising” never leads to sustainable business success.

A culture of snoopervising is created by managers who constantly demand to see results. This approach is seldom very productive, as being pressed for results may well ruffle a few feathers, no matter how results-oriented you are. Indeed, a manager’s ability to recognize the emotions their presence and questions stir up in employees is part of their basic skill set.

Systems that stave off a culture of control

Jonttu makes every effort to ensure Forenom uses systems and reports that deliver transparent data and results. When all the data is in plain view and is easy to access, it is much easier to analyze the results and have productive discussions about them, face-to-face.

“I don’t want people to keep tabs on each other, or check where everyone is or what they are doing.”

The one question managers have to address time and time again is whether to focus on performance or results. One is inseparably linked to the other, but it’s easy for managers to go to extremes and overlook one at the expense of the other. Having systems and transparent metrics in place is a big help, and offers room for different working styles and personalities in the workplace. The person who is always the first to blow his own trumpet is not automatically the most competent one.

Results generated by systems and recorded in reports give credit to those who truly perform well. They may not be the high-profile people, but perform small miracles in their own niche. This helps to identify the company’s best practices and to create a toolkit that will help others to succeed, too.

Performance measurement requires creativity

Being constantly measured by one KPI or another can be mentally taxing for employees, and it is easy to lose sight of what is really essential in their work.  This is particularly true in information work, where things change at a dizzying pace, making it extremely challenging to define goals and objectives.

“Whoever comes up with the best performance indicators will win the game.”

The workplaces of the future will be so different from today’s that new employee performance metrics will have to be created continuously. Once a trendsetter has set the benchmark for specific metrics, others will be quick to follow suit. In the future, an important skill individual employees will need or, more precisely, will be required to have, is the ability to measure their input and their performance and explain why these KPIs are the most suitable.  This requires an analytical and, above all, a creative mindset.

“Applying performance metrics alone requires creativity. If you can come up with a good set of KPIs, you will be a winner.”

As performance metrics gain importance, finance departments will be more closely involved in companies’ decision-making processes. Employees already expect leaders to show creativity when it comes to setting objectives and measuring performance. This age of individualism calls for unique objectives and indicators set for each person individually. Generic KPIs applicable to entire teams are a thing of the past. Whichever metrics are applied, they should measure individual performances and abilities.

Next on the agenda: Objectives

Next, Jonttu and I move on to a fascinating topic: Objectives. He compared objectives to a hilltop you can set your sights on when trudging through the mire, to help you maintain a clear sense of direction. It is the leader’s job to lead the way, and encourage everyone to reach the objective; to climb up the hill.

“The future of your company depends on your tenacity as a leader; your ability to repeat your vision until it sinks in. It takes time to process a vision, people need to chew it over.”

Although there is no secret formula for setting or reaching objectives, it is essential to talk about them, both before you set off to climb the hill and as you go along.  However, too much time spent talking will delay deployment, which in turn may result in delayed decision-making and eventual failure.  It is likely that the predicted risks will cause less harm than it will to do nothing.

Thoughts on failure – lack of trust hinders growth

“A sense of security is crucial in order to encourage people to put themselves on the line. An environment of trust and security increases efficiency and productivity.  Lack of trust hinders growth.”

For individuals to succeed in achieving larger objectives, they should be split into smaller components that can be reached with an 80% performance level.  People should be encouraged to try – and possibly fail – faster. If you give 100% to a project and fail, the failure tastes even more bitter.  How do you lead a failed team or employee? How can you make employees feel they have performed their duties successfully, even if they have failed?

“It’s important to make employees feel they have succeeded, even if a project fails. Maybe the timing or the underlying assumptions were wrong, but the employees were doing the right things.”

So, companies need to be quick and fearlessly take strategic action, knowing these actions may result in failure. If this happens, a large number of employees will inevitably fail and suffer bitter disappointment. Since nobody likes to fail, repeated trials and errors place high demands on employees but also represent a major leadership challenge. How do you lead employees who will inevitably fail but are, at the same time, the most important assets for the company?

Having concluded this discussion, Johannes went on to clarify Forenom’s own business credo. Some time ago, Forenom acquired and developed a sharing economy platform called FridayFlats. The project failed, but Forenom learned a valuable lesson. Now Forenom is about to launch a significant development project which involves integrating Forenom’s Nordic housing capacity with existing, mature worldwide systems.

Valtteri Karjula, the author of this blog, works in Barona Group’s marketing team. He is passionate about the small changes and major transitions in working life. More blog posts by Valtteri at barona.fi blog, and in his private social media channels – @valtterikarjula

Jonttu’s thoughts about the year 2017