Why not become CEO of your problems?


I had a chance a few weeks ago to take a class on A3 thinking with John Shook. He mentioned that one of the greatest benefits of an A3 is that it forces people to take ownership of a problem, rather than having it fall into a no-man's-land between functional silos. And we've all run into those, right? You know how it goes: "That's marketing's responsibility." "No, it isn't. Its definitely part of the sales function." "Yes, but sales gets that information from IT." And on and on it goes, with no hope of ever getting resolved. So I was struck by last week's NYTimes interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga. Pincus tells the interviewer that one of his key methods of leadership is to make everyone into a CEO in the company:

Mark Pincus: I'd turn people into C.E.O.’s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows who’s C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.

NYTimes: So who were some of your new C.E.O.’s?

MP: We had this really motivated, smart receptionist. She was young. We kept outgrowing our phone systems, and she kept coming back and saying, “Mark, we’ve got to buy a whole new phone system.” And I said: “I don’t want to hear about it. Just buy it. Go figure it out.” She spent a week or two meeting every vendor and figuring it out. She was so motivated by that. I think that was a big lesson for me because what I realized was that if you give people really big jobs to the point that they’re scared, they have way more fun and they improve their game much faster. She ended up running our whole office.

Now, you can argue with Pincus's approach. It probably doesn't conform with all the tenets of "respect for people." And telling an employee, "I don't want to hear about it. Go figure it out." probably isn't the best way of training staff in how to think (which is one of the key functions of the A3). But making a person the CEO of a problem is, I think, very much in keeping with Shook's idea of granting ownership via A3, because it ensures that something will get done.

Have you ever whined about ineffective, time-wasting, soul-sucking meetings? Do you bemoan the plague of useless, irritating, and time-consuming "reply all" emails? Are you frustrated at the lack of an intelligent electronic file storage system? Do nearly constant interruptions by colleagues keep you from getting any of your important work done?

In Pincus's terms, are you willing to become the CEO of any of these problems? Or using lean methods, are you willing to take ownership of these problems with an A3 so that you can devise some countermeasures and make the office a better place to work?

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