Some people management tips for first time Startup C-levels

During my day to day, I focus on advising founder at startups, and generally most of these founders fall into three buckets – they are amazing sales people, they are amazing product/engineering people, they are amazing operations people.

What tends to be common however is they tend to lack business management and financial management skills, they may have some experience, but the general observation is this is where the weak link in the chain is. 

We see this manifest itself with symptoms like high staff turn over, over hiring then when run way ends bulk firing, overly ambitious and ungrounded business forecasts, frustrations and buyers remorse with new hires, the list goes on.

So here are some tips for first time Startup C-levels that should reduce some of the common issues relating to people management.

  1. The more senior you are, the more you need to be a clairvoyant – as you get more senior your decision making and impact needs to reach further into the future, a CEO is looking at what and how to reach objectives 5-10 years into the future, a COO, 1-5 years into the future, a director, quarter to quarter, a manager project to project or month to month, a executive week to week and an intern day to day, it would therefore be a fallacy to expect an executive to be able to understand or comment on a 1-5 year horizon. This seniority linked horizon also affects the level of detail and the way people thing about their work – you need to consider this when given direction, setting plans and explaining to people how their contributions fit into the organisation.
  2. COO roles should be filled by people who have experience with process and working with all levels and parts of an organisation, the nature of the role requires both strategic and executional experience, the focus is the help Bridge the gap between the vision of the CEO and the day to day work of the intern, COOs focus on the HOW of the problems of the business. the effects of a strong COO will be less CEO intervention on day to day operations, increased clarity and stability with the organisations work and staff, increased productivity and accountability, better quality output and less firefighting. 
  3. All people have different personalities, and these personalities are better suited and will naturally concentrate around certain roles in the organisation, calm process oriented problem solvers will typically also be more conservative and risk averse as well as introverted, their personality strengths pair with personality ‘weaknesses’ – these profiles will typically thrive in roles like research or tech, and they are likely to thrive on those roles, if you force such a personality into a sales role, you might as well be asking as fish to climb a tree. These personality traits also mean that how you manage them, how much control, oversight, accountability and your expectations of them also needs to be calibrated. – since this is a natural aspect of an individual, its your responsibility as a leader to take this into account during the hiring and evaluation process, you need to manage your own expectations and determine what aspects of personality you must have and which you’re willing to compromise, and you need to be clear how you’ll manage the personality ‘weakness-pairing’ as a result of the personality you’re selecting – for example, typically sales people are ambitious go-getters, they are also selfish, so if you wants a generous sales person you’re likely going to find a bad sales person, therefore the question is more, how do you manage the selfishness.
  4. The personality traits you’re looking for should form part of the JD that you are creating and you should write the JD in a way that would attracts such personality traits.
  5. Despite the importance of personality in hires, one of the biggest faults that inexperienced hirers make is to hire for potential, inexperienced hirers will often highlight how the personality traits they’ve spotted suit the role, even with no evidence that the candidate has done tasks that the role would require. This is risky especially for a startup, a company isn’t a school, time is more valuable than investment and you typically need candidates who have evidence of experience and results, the more senior the role the more critical and essential this becomes. You don’t want to hire a candidate who has to potential the be a COO you want someone who has proven they have done it. Hiring for potential allows for confidence to replace competence, resulting in dunning-kruger mistakes, in senior roles this can create problems that can take a long time to rectify. It’s therefore much better to hire on competency and capabilities and evaluate based on proven results and accomplishments. Note, you should screen deeply for this so that you can determine of these results and accomplishments are real and the candidate truly contributed and isn’t simply claiming credit. 
  6. The more senior you are, the more you need to calibrate your management style to the level junior to you, you need to calibrate down due to experience, as well as role and breadth of strategic view, expecting a junior staff member to know how to behave or manage up is like expecting a toddler to know how to behave in a cinema, without training, education, mentorship and reinforcement, not only would a toddler no even know it was an issue, the toddler won’t know what the correct behaviour should be. Thus a manager or executive is unlikely to really know how to manage up without guidance and leadership, so its incumbent on the director or leader to calibrate their management style to meet the inexperience of a junior level.
  7. In parallel with calibrating your management style for subordinates, you need to also calibrate your oversight, the more junior someone you manage is the more touchpoint, control, and process you need to support them. The more experience gap there is – the more process you need. These processes and touch points need to be proportional to experience and trained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *