Improving Manager Capability in Startups

Large companies spend millions on managerial capability development every year. Is there a better approach?

Mayank Prabhakar
3 min readOct 28, 2020


Today, we see many start-ups focusing only on achieving the business goals and growth, and things like manager capability development and culture building take a back seat. You can’t argue against it. In the initial year years revenue and growth matters. But yet, if you want to win in the long term, you need to win the talent war.

So many great companies in the Valley are growing and hiring that there’s no reason to stay with a company if you are unhappy or think your potential is being wasted. And there’s certainly no reason to pay “a**hole tax”. If you don’t like your boss, you quit, knowing that ten other companies will be lining up to hire you. So the pressure on companies to get these relationships right is enormous.

-Kim Scott in the bestselling book Radical Candor

Most startups hire young people in managerial roles who haven’t had much experience managing teams and diverse people. Also, there aren’t many experienced leaders in startups to mentor and coach these young managers. So they are out there in the company, hustling to get things done and figuring out things on their own.

It would have still worked out in the past, when there were fewer companies and talent was abundant. But today to succeed, you have to compete for the top talent. The top talent out there doesn’t want to be micromanaged on their work, but to be micromanaged in their development. They want to work in high freedom and less bureaucratic organizations, which means most decisions would be made by manager decretion. In the days of open glassdoor reviews, that’s leaving too much to chance if you are not investing in managerial capability development.

Most of the large companies spend millions on managerial training and capability development interventions every year.

As a startup or a small businesses, you don’t have to spend millions or even hundred-thousands every year on manegerial training, if you adopt few alternative approaches.

1. Leverage the MOOCs

Today MOOCs and e-learning platforms like Coursera, edX, udemy, and others offer a variety of courses on managerial capability development either free of cost or at a very minimal cost. There are enough and more articles and videos out there which provide guidance and best practices for managers.

To make them useful and effective for your managers, research and curate these MOOCs, articles, and video to create learning paths on different skills managers need to master.

2. Implement a Nudge based Microlearning Interventions

While the MOOCs, articles, and videos present relevant and important information for managers, research on learning shows that even within an hour, people can forget about 50% of that information. Additionally, in most start-ups and small companies managers are time-stretched, and may not have enough time to go through these courses, and then apply the learnings in their job.

The solution to this is micro-learning nuggets — bit-sized courses focused on a very specific skill and delivered just-in-time when managers need it. A very good example of this is the Whispers Course at Google.

3. Develop Peer-Peer Learning Programs

External content and training can provide great insights and learnings for your managers, but the problem with most of them is that they lack appreciation of the context under which managers operate on a day-to-day basis.

That's where internal training by your own best managers and leaders could be helpful. They are not only better than most managers in your company but also understand the specific context of your company, customers, and employees. Ask your best managers to conduct internal training for others.

Informal internal meet-ups where the group manages the agenda, shares, and discusses their perspectives, experiences, and learnings on regular basis are also a great way to build and disseminate skills and capabilities at speed.

Although this article is about improving manager capability development, a similar approach can be taken for capability development across other areas.



Mayank Prabhakar

Product Manager in HR/People Tech domain. I explore and write about emerging research to solve people and org problems through tech.