A new breed of CFO: The Chief Failure Officer


The days of the CFO sitting in the corner office counting beans are long gone. No longer just the most senior accountant, today we look to our finance leaders to embrace digital technologies and use data analytics to drive consistent and measurable growth for our business. Modern CFOs are increasingly expected to be key drivers of business innovation, but to successfully innovate, failure, not initial success is the key… again and again.

It was Albert Einstein that said “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried something new”. And he was right.

The thought of failure keeps senior business leaders awake at night, when really, failure should be looked upon as a long-term positive. Ultimately, success teaches us very little. When we succeed, we continue to do things in exactly the same way. It’s human instinct. If it isn’t broken, why would you fix it?

To breed an entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately business success, you’ve got to embrace failure. It’s easy to say, but how do you do it?

Make risky hires

In order to innovate, you’ve got to take risks. Those unafraid of failure are those likeliest to innovate.

Filling your employee base with risk takers is, in itself, a risk (risk-ception). However, it will give you a workforce that is most comfortable pushing itself to think differently. A workforce that will set your business apart from your competitors, and give you a chance for success.

Don’t shame failure

When people fail, they have two options. They can run from their mistake or they can approach it head on and learn from it. Employees will do the former if they work in an environment where they know a mistake will land them in hot water. Don’t let it happen.

Removing the stigma attached to failure will ensure you create a workforce of innovators and people willing to take a risk on something a little bit different.

If you punish someone for not succeeding, they’ll dwell on it and let the shame affect their next business decisions. At the end of the day it will be business innovation that will suffer.

Showcase failure

Don’t just accept failure, showcase it! This isn’t to say I’m promoting businesses to enact public shamings.

What I mean is to allow your employees who make mistakes to share what they’ve learnt and what they’d do differently next time. By showcasing failure, you allow everyone in the business to fail (and learn) together.

Showcasing failure will also ensure that a one-time mistake doesn’t become a frequent issue for your business.

This all starts at the top. If an employee sees someone from their C-Suite make a mistake and talk candidly about what they’d change next time, you’ll begin to engender a culture where failure isn’t all that bad.

While traditional CFOs are risk-averse and failure-fearing, the new breed of CFO, capable of driving innovation and fostering it throughout their business needs to be the champion of failing, trying new ways of doing things and getting out of their comfort zone.

The new CFO is the Chief Failure Officer.

see also: Don’t let a fear of failure stifle innovation  –  mine mistakes to strengthen your business“failure isn’t fatal, nor is it defining – it can equip you for success”: Beanstalk Factory CEODon’t sweep failure under the rug, confront it, and The power of sharing failure stories.


About the author

Pip Spibey-Dodd is CFO of corporate travel platform Travelport Locomote.