Growing managers

There’s a fairly common practice in growing start-ups.

When the headcount ramps up and a more complicated structure is needed, the natural tendency is to promote founders or early stage employees into managerial roles. This happens only marginally because people making or vetting the decision believe those employees are the best for the job. Most of the time, the promotion is seen as a reward: after all, the person has been with the company when things were getting started, typically a difficult moment to be in.

There’s a problem with that, though. The skills needed to do your job are considerably different from the skills needed to have others do their jobs.

In this [new] capacity you have plenty of work to do yourself: setting strategy, hiring and firing, coaching and development, obtaining necessary resources, making certain decisions while delegating others, and embodying the culture you wish to foster.

Ed Batista

Most growing companies ignore this problem, and end up in a situation in which a hiatus develops between managers and employees. Managers are not willing to find the time to do what they are supposed to do, employees are left alone and in the blind. Eventually, one of two things will happen: growth will flatline, as managers factually act as bottlenecks; or value will be destroyed, as negative working culture spreads (think Uber).

Founders and early stage employees can (and should) still be rewarded, but if it is decided to promote them into managerial roles, the company should at least make sure they understand their new responsibilities and get appropriate training and mentoring to deliver on the expectations of their newly formed teams.

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