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The Founder’s Guide to Managing

March 24, 2017

Three simple things you can do to make managing people a responsibility that empowers, rather than a chore.

Alex Budak starts companies, catalyzes communities, leads organizations, mentors, speaks and writes to create a world where anyone and everyone can be a change-maker. He believes leadership is not a title, but a series of small acts. He loves to travel, photography, the UCLA Bruins and exploring his hometown, San Francisco, with his wife Rebecca.

Most entrepreneurs start their companies because they have a burning desire to create change in society - to create a new product or service that addresses a pain point which matters. They’re visionaries, brave, and have passion pouring out of their pores. In short, they want to create and innovate.

Most founders however, don’t start their company because they relish the idea of managing an organization - of creating roles and responsibilities, leading budget meetings and coordinating steering committees. In short, they don’t want to be a manager.

Enter the Manager

Yet it’s great management that will take incredible visions and transform them into enduring structures, which can outlast any single person. And, while managing is both a science and an art, which can never be perfected, there are absolutely some small things that can make a huge difference right away.

From my own journey as a founder and my experience advising entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey, I’ve learned three simple things which are change-makers. Really, you can start making these efforts and changes right now to make managing people a responsibility that empowers, rather than a chore.

1. Over-communicate

The brilliant author, Patrick Lencioni, makes the point that if you are just communicating, you are actually “under-communicating.” From my experience working with entrepreneurs, I’ve seen that they are extremely quick learners and adapters, but they mistakenly assume everyone is automatically on the same page as they are. Not only are companies made up of many different, diverse personalities and learning styles, founders often have different experiences to draw on, compared to their team.

Lencioni has three tips on how to overcommunicate more effectively; I especially like the recommendation to tell stories. Often, a story can communicate far more than the words themselves — it’s a powerful way to reinforce vision, values and a way of working.

2. Articulate and Constantly Reinforce Core Values

As a startup grows from a single entrepreneur with an idea, to a complex organization, it’s inevitable that the founder will not be as involved in every decision. I love the definition of a culture being what each team member does when no one is watching. Every act is an expression of an organization’s values.

A great manager doesn’t just claim to have values; they live them and model them every day, and in every interaction. Three-to-five values seem to work best — enough so they are both memorable and clearly understandable, but not so many that they lose their impact. In my last team, these values were: supporting one another, being bold, celebrating failure and remaining humble.

It matters less what these values are, than remembering a great manager makes them a reality. And, it’s not enough to simply write down these values. Rather, managers need to find ways to constantly reinforce them in everyday operations - for instance, we created the expectation that everyone (myself included) would spend 20 percent of their time supporting their teammates’ projects; and we started each meeting by asking teammates how they “failed forward” that week.

3. Make Time

Founders are some of the most time-pressed people I know. The combination of a huge vision, working with limited resources and indefatigable hustle, can create someone who is simultaneously everywhere but nowhere.

Being a good manager takes time — but not as much time as you think. The book The One Minute Manager gives a hint at how this can work (though don’t be fooled that one minute is actually enough).

The most common mistakes I see entrepreneurs make, when it comes to investing management time is never actually setting aside that time. If they do, it often gets de-prioritized when crises come up. This makes reports feel ignored, and allows important concerns to slip through the cracks.

It helps to set weekly, 30-minute, one-on-one meetings for direct reports. This ensures “important but not urgent” issues can be addressed, without being a burden for the manager or the employee. I prefer a structure where time is given to the employee to use as they wish — to get support; to share feedback; to brainstorm. The key is treating these meetings as sacred (never to be skipped, even in the face of inevitable time pressures), and giving undivided attention and support. Making a small-time investment here provides huge dividends, in both strategy and team development.

Embrace the Opportunity

Rest assured that managing doesn’t come easy to everyone, especially most early-stage founders. Embracing the three approaches of great management detailed above, will start you on the path toward being both a great entrepreneur, and a great manager. 

Management can, and should, be fun and empowering. Once you understand this, you’ll have set the stage to magnify and sustain your vision and your company well into the future.

This article originally appeared on Startup Grind.

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