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Every year a fortunate minority of startups figure out enough of the product-market-fit puzzle to grow from scrappy startups to mature businesses. While that is undeniably a good thing, it also means life is about to get more complicated. It is no longer a half dozen engineers sitting around a table. Soon managers of all sorts likely will be on the scene with dashboards, meeting agendas, and Gantt charts.
— But are they good managers?
Too often the answer is no. The sad truth is too many startups employ shitty managers. And many don’t even know it.
Here is the pattern I too often see:
— Very early days — the team is a small group of engineers + 2–3 founders.
— Founders have a vision and woo a couple of early customers.
— Team defers sleep for a non-zero number of weeks and deploys version 1.0.
— Customers are satisfied and founders woo a handful more
— They raise money.
— They hire a bunch of folks and not just techies; the first. “business” people join the fray
— They want to release version 2.0 and speed up customer acquisition.
— Founders realize that the processes that worked at 5–10 employees no longer work.
— Founders respond by working harder.
— Founders get sick. (often)
— Founders try again. (get sick again)
— Founders realize that a new way of operating is needed.
— Founders turn to the people they know best, the early employees, to save the day.
— Founders re-org the team, promoting several early folks into supervisory and management roles.
— Things seem to get better. (but they don’t)
— Processes are still broken, but founders now have less visibility.
— 1st turnover occurs.
— Founders become reflective, ask questions, and uncover deep fissures across the team.
— Founders hire first-skilled managers.
— Things actually get better.
Prior to product market fit, you’re rowing in a slightly unfinished canoe in the dead of night with a weak beam of light. Once fit initially has been found, you’re racing at top speed in a speed boat low on gas with smoke billowing from the engine while trying to stay just ahead of a hurricane.
Keep the ship on course, nirvana awaits. A wrong move or two…
Here is the lesson we all know yet regularly forget — being a great individual contributor is not a recipe for being a great manager. This is not a pattern isolated to startup life. We see a similar trend across most service businesses — law firms, ad agencies, accounting firms, etc. It’s the Peter principle run amok.
But hope is not all lost. Management is a skill. It can be learned. The first step is to know whether you’re shitty. The second step is to care enough to improve. The third step is to get some help. There are training programs, books and (I’m sure if you looked) mentors galore.
By now, I’m sure some of you are curious whether you’re a shitty manager. We’re here to help. Take this quiz:
Now count up how many times you responded “Yes.” To view your responses, go here:
Total # of Yes Scores:
0–2: You’re not shitty at all; in fact, you likely show up organized and with empathy almost every day of the week. You took this quiz just to feel good about yourself and judge those around you. Congrats (and shame on you).
3–5: Not going to lie; you’re kinda shitty. Most people with this score know what it takes to be a great manager but either choose not to put in the extra effort (apathy) or are simply stretched too thin to live up to their own potential. If the former, do better. If the latter, hopefully, help is on the way.
6–8: You’re really shitty and, in fact, either have somewhat sociopathic tendencies or really hate your job; more often than not, it’s the latter, so I recommend seeking out a role that will turn that frown upside down. You’re likely making other people feel shitty pretty regularly because of how shitty you are at this.
9+: One of two explanations for your score — either you were super curious what the results would reveal about you so you lied in your self-assessment, or you really are the shittiest of shitty, you’re not at all a nice person and eventually will be caught up in something far worse than poor management. I look forward to reading about you in the news.
Know someone in your life who might be a shitty manager? Forward them this article, or send us their email, and we’ll send them the quiz anonymously… 💩