December 2, 2011
Being startup talent (and managing startup talent)
Managing people in a startup is hard. My company has about 40 people in three different countries, mostly engineers but also sales and other types. I never had direct responsibility for big numbers of people before Peek -- just a handful in previous startups like Virgin Mobile or when I worked at McKinsey. But at this point I have hired and fired over 100 people and been part of maybe 250 decisions like that -- a big chunk of that as my various companies have zigged and zagged through various market situations. At Peek right now we are just absolutely kicking ass and it was only possible because we removed lots of people (and brought on lots of other people). So I can testify to what 'management' is about.
And the ultimate management decision with people is: firing. You need to fire people to protect your good people, undo your hiring mistakes, and move the direction of your business.
So I found this advice about being a manager/evaluating people really useful. If you are a manager of other people at any level, you should be following this action plan:
Fs - Fire people who are not contributing anything at all instantly --> this is an easy one for most
Cs - Make a move on your "requires lots of oversight to deliver" people --> this is the hardest one
Bs - Coach your good but not great folks to be more innovative as they continue to deliver what is asked of them with little oversight --> also pretty easy, often you pair one of these with an A
As - Admire your A players who make plays and write new playbooks --> also easy
In general, it's hard to fire people at all but if you are going to be a CEO or manager of any type, you are probably aware it has to happen sometimes and the Fs are a slam dunk case. And As help you get through the day. You do need to give though to harnessing Bs (rather than naively thinking your company is going to be all As), and most important is to deal with Cs.
Cs are sometimes full of pathos ("I really am trying!") and I have trouble making a move on them -- and by make a move I mean firing them. That is what you need to do with Cs.
But let's say you are not actually CEO. The more useful question is who am I? Where do I fit?
So, if you are anything other than the CEO, try this four-stage self-diagnostic to see who you are.
1. Feel the company is confusing? Your managers are crazy? Priorities always changing and unrealistic to follow? Managers keep giving too little direction?
You are an F for this situation and you should quit or be fired. You may be a good person but you just don't fit here. Leave. Help your bungling bosses make that call. The truth is that all startups are full of confusing, shifting strategies and tactics. But if you can't handle it or gain traction on the work, that is very bad.
2. Grinding things out? Have people spending late nights with you? Or getting ignored for a week at a time completely? Occasionally getting a pat on the head like a "that was good" email and mostly getting hassled about stuff you forgot, should have done, "I would have expected XYZ"?
You are a C. Either the company's management is focused way over there on some radically different stuff for urgent and important reasons...or you are just not contributing usefully to the core of the company's mission right now. If you are getting super-duper-supervised...you are a problem, sucking management time as they try to shape you into their vision of the world. Leave. They will fire you eventually or fail as a company entirely as they pick up more baggage like you. This is not the place for you.
3. Grinding things out, but nobody really up in your grill except to hand you new work? Perhaps you don't quite get what "the strategy" is in this place but the stuff that comes your way is getting done and deployed and moving forward. You send mails out with "done" or "x" or "now next week I will" and people seem to kind of ignore your mails and ideas? You expect more engagement given you are making such good stuff happen. What about your idea for that new feature or partner. That thread didn't take off did it?
You are producing and minding your own business --> great. But you are either hanging back and not pathbreaking new ideas, or you are *are* doing this but out of step with your company. That latter situation can be frustrating but you haven't yet become pissed off and misbehaved (you might someday). Anyway, for now you are a B and you have a bright future ahead, if you can find a way to be like the next level below.
4. If you dream stuff up, say "Hey should we do this?" and people are like "yeah, go ahead" then congratulations you innovative playbook-writer you. And if intelligent people are giving you go-aheads, they are doing it because they know you get stuff done. When people are like "um, well, we should put that on the list" they have doubts about your get-er-doneness. But here they keep saying yes to stuff and you will risk overcommitting. In fact, you have latitude where people don't even require consultation before you make decisions. You are in charge.
This is how it feels to be an A player. Things to watch out for: thinking you should be CEO, properly focusing your powers of get-it-done, getting pissed at the B crowd rather than 'leveraging' them. Rest easy though: one day you will be the founder/CEO yourself.
Well, maybe -- an interesting point from someone who read this post for me -- was A player != CEO. A players work lots and do tons, but CEOs literally kill themselves. So you can be a top contributor without being the CEO. So keep in mind that difference and enjoy it before you sign up for the next level job in startupland.
So, that's my advice if you are a startup person: find out who you are, then either quit, innovate, or hold your horses.Posted by amol at December 2, 2011 12:59 PM