In my last article, Passive vs Intentional Culture Development, I explored the different ways that founders and their leadership teams can choose to embed culture and values within their startups. The TLDR: whilst passive culture development can work in the early stages of a startup, dedicating time and effort to crafting your culture and values can make a huge difference to the long-term success of your team, especially as you scale. One core benefit of crafting your culture in this way is that it can reap huge benefits for the leaders in your business.
We all know startups move at pace. Employees wear many hats. There’s an energy that you don’t find in any corporate setup. But the glue that holds that all together boils down to two things: your culture and the people who guard it.
Your leaders should be an extension of you as a founder. It’s their role to uphold the expected standards of execution, hit important milestones and support the wider team. Often in startups (particularly in the early stages), you see a number of first-time managers. Developing these new managers can be critical to the success of your startup, but yet this is regularly missed.
If you want to know more about how to grow outstanding leaders and cement your startup culture, read on below.
The most common mistake when it comes to first-time managers.
The shift from individual contributor (IC) to manager is hugely significant. I regularly see situations where an IC has been promoted because they are excelling in their role and the next logical step is for them to take on more management responsibilities. Sounds great, right? Not quite. This is because there is a range of core skills that good managers need to have which superstar ICs probably don’t. These include having difficult conversations, setting KPIs and targets, salary discussions and performance reviews. Dropping new, inexperienced managers at the deep end never ends well: if these issues are mishandled, it can lead to complicated misunderstandings, a disheartened team and sometimes increased attrition. Ultimately, it detracts from your culture.
Expecting your people to automatically know how to manage, and automatically be comfortable with all the challenging aspects of the job is not a sufficient long-term strategy. According to research by Gartner, “60% of all new managers fail within the first 24 months of their new position. And the main reason they fail is that they were not trained properly on how to manage other people and be an effective leader in the first place.” Good managers can make or break your business and determine whether you effectively achieve your goals. So how can you ensure their success in a scaling startup?
Where do you start with developing your managers?
Often in early-stage start-ups, a significant percentage of the management team is made up of first-time managers. Some founders are actually first-time managers themselves. It’s crucial that they are coached into becoming leaders, the difference being that they feel empowered to support employee development.
Here are five quick tips to get you started on developing your managers.
- Identify potential managers: Focus on who from your team has demonstrated leadership potential or expressed an interest in taking on more responsibility. Consider their track record of performance, problem-solving skills, and ability to work collaboratively.
- Provide training: Provide managers with training in areas such as communication, conflict resolution, time management, and delegation.
- Set clear expectations: Clearly define the manager's role and responsibilities, including goals and metrics for success. Being a Manager means an increased range of responsibilities, not just fitting people into your original IC role. This will help them understand what is expected of them and how their performance will be evaluated.
- Encourage feedback: Encourage managers to seek feedback from their team members, peers, and their own managers. This will help them understand how they are perceived and identify areas for improvement.
- Provide coaching: Provide one-on-one coaching to help managers develop their skills and overcome any challenges they may be facing. This can be done through formal coaching sessions or informal mentoring.
- Foster a culture of continuous learning: Encourage a culture of learning by providing opportunities for employees to learn and grow. This can include training programs, conferences, and workshops.
- Recognise and reward success: Recognise and reward managers who demonstrate strong leadership skills. This doesn’t need to be monetary recognition but through giving company-wide recognition and open feedback. By doing this, you’re encouraging others to do the same and do better.
Remember that developing managers in a start-up is an ongoing process. It requires continuous support, feedback, and coaching to help them grow and succeed.
Here are five quick wins to get you started on the above:
- Leverage in-house expertise in your people team or existing, strong leaders to run workshops and lunch-and-learns on key topics such as giving feedback, managing expectations and having difficult conversations
- Lean on external support - such as external training partners. Sometimes someone external and impartial can create a greater emphasis on this topic, more openness and better results.
- Share links and resources on the topic so managers can be proactive in their learning.
- Hold drop-in clinics for managers to chat through tough team situations they’re currently dealing with.
- Ask teams for feedback on managers so you can help your Manager group identify their areas of development.
To wrap up.
Ultimately, it is best not to assume that your top performers will naturally be great managers. Just because someone excels in their individual role doesn't mean they'll excel in managing others. It's essential to provide your first-time managers with the support, coaching, and development they need to become effective leaders. By focusing on emotional intelligence and resilience, you can help them navigate the challenges of managing expectations and resolving conflicts. Leading by example is also crucial, as it sets the tone for the rest of the team.
Nurturing great managers into leaders is critical to the success of start-ups. If you get it right and prioritise it early on, you can create a start-up culture that is positive and creates a productive work environment. This, in turn, will attract and retain top talent, drive innovation and foster collaboration. With great managers in the making, you’re on track to avoid the common pitfalls that so many scaling start-ups face. Investing in your managers' growth and leadership skills is an investment in the future of your start-up, and it can make all the difference in achieving your collective goals.