Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Walk The Factory Floor And You Might Not Get Fired

People often ask me:
"Paul, what is one thing I can do to avoid getting fired as CEO after I get funded?"
Most VCs know that the entrepreneur who walks in the door will likely not stay on as CEO forever. Most first-time entrepreneurs have deep domain knowledge, but lack the leadership qualities that are necessary at that stage. However, this doesn't mean that an entrepreneur shouldn't work to develop their leadership and CEO qualities.

One quality in particular that might keep you in the CEO job longer is the ability to "walk the factory floor". At the highest level, it means that you're a leader who is engaged with and aware of everything going on in your business. On a more practical level, here are some steps you can take to be a CEO/entrepreneur/leader who walks the factory floor:
  • Be open. Keep your office door open 90% of the time.
  • Be visible. Make sure you're the first one in and the last one out of the office.
  • Be there. Don't be away from the office if you don't have to be. Generals direct best on the battlefield.
  • Be mindful. Always be conscious of how people react to your words and your presence. Never shoot the messenger.
  • Hold Monday meetings. Take a couple of hours to catch up at the beginning of the week.
  • Take the company's pulse. Know the mood of your employees. You're only going to accomplish this by talking to them (and not just your senior executives).
  • Speak their language. If you're going to walk the factory floor, make sure you speak the factory worker's language. Understand your employees' needs and talk to them about things that matter to them, not to you.
  • Listen. Your employees know what your customers want better than you do. If you're going to take the time to walk the factory floor, the least you can do is listen. More about the importance of being a great listener in a future post. 
If you've got the experience to back it up, make sure you articulate to your VC how deftly you walk the factory floor. Walking the factory floor is a major component in the creation of a corporate culture. Showing that you can do it well is music to a VC's ears...

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