Startups Need To Stop Hiring “Managers”

I’m serious. Just stop.

Startups are generally comprised of a super small, passionate, enthusiastic, dedicated and tenacious founding team. They start with a couple“founders” and then they grow, member by member, until they hit a point where they look around and say “Hey! We need some managers up in this joint!” (These exact words get spoken. Every time. Promise.) Before long they have a“Product Manager,”an “Operations Manager” and even a shiny new “Customer Support Manager.” Then, magically the product team, the operations team, and the customer support team all breathe deep and say “Oh thank God! Someone to finally manage us!” Except they don’t. They definitely don’t say that.

They don’t say that, because, given proper leadership they don’t need managment. Or they shouldn’t.

I promise I’m not trying play symantics here. There is definitely a difference between a “manager” and a “leader.” The two terms are often used interchangably but there’s a pretty big difference. I found this neat diagram where one article attempted to draw us a picture between the two terms:

Image from champsforgrowth.com

Looking at this you should ask yourself two questions.

  1. Is your startup already so flush with leadership talent that you can afford to hire someone who just fulfills the duties in the “Management” column?
  2. Can you think of any really great “managers” who didn’t fall more in the orange column anyway? How many great managers have you met that “developed talent” but didn’t “inspire people,” or “managed projects effectively and efficiently” but weren’t able to “reach long-range goals and objectives?”

Let’s look at another diagram (because who doesn’t love pictures?)

Diagram from Edu-cat-ion.com

I like this diagram because it so clearly depicts “Managing” in the unfavorable light it deserves. I mean, who wants to work for someone with an “Authoritarian Style” or who uses “Power & Control?” Not me. Probably none of the talented people you plan to have them “manage” either.

Story time. A little over 2.5 years ago, I stepped into the role of Director of Client Services at a MSP here in Nashville. I walked in with my decade of experience in hospitality management and a handful of years in finance and accounting. Here, in this moment however, I was handed a team of 30+ highly technical engineers and, at the time, I couldn’t even tell you what an “ISP” was. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to “manage” them, I didn’t know the first thing about what they did everyday. Luckily, I didn’t have to, they didn’t need a manager, they needed a leader.

My message that morning at the Client Services meeting was the same as it would be during every new hire orientation meeting that followed for the next two plus years. “It’s my job to establish and communicate expectations and then give you the tools you need to succeed in meeting them. It’s your job to own your own experience here. Raise your hand if you have a question, propose a solution when you encounter a problem and check your ego at the door, because the only way we’re going to succeed here is if we all do this together.”

My team proceeded to experience zero turnover for the next 12 months, we grew the team by 20% and experienced top line revenue growth of over 20%. People like to be treated like capable, empowered and trusted adults.

Startups don’t need managers. They need to hire experienced leadership, give them the tools they need to succeed, empower them to do good work, and then give them access to someone who can lead and support them in their efforts, while ensuring all the talented adults are all working towards the same goals together.

Why am I making such a big deal out of a title? Because titles matter. They’re what people call each other, and themselves. They’re on websites, business cards, linkedin profiles and sometimes even etched on doors. People make assumptions about a person’s duties, responsibilities, and standing within a company based on titles. They also make assumptions about their interactions with other members of their company based on titles. Do you really want other members of your organization walking around knowing there is someone whose job it is to “manage” them? No, you don’t.

Talented adults who are “managed” stop owning their own experience. They wait to be told what to do next and they accomplish only what’s asked of them. They bitch about problems and wait for someone to come around and solve them. People who need to be managed, don’t belong in startups.

Startups need leaders. People thrive when led, they fail to grow when managed.

So please, I implore you, stop hiring “managers” at your startup.

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