Article: Who does what ... matters!


Who does what ... matters!

Early startup teams revolve around one easily defined common goal.You just landed your first large customer, now you have to get your sh$t together to not lose their business OR maybe you're shipping that killer feature you hope will open the market.
Who does what ... matters!

And so a defining characteristic of the early days is that everybody does everything.

It doesn't matter if you're manager or director or marketing or product - you are focused on that one easily defined common goal. All hands on deck.

But, as you grow - your goals become more complex. You are now, let's say, trying to break into the US, expand in Asia, and build a category. These aren't goals you can accomplish in a few weeks or months, these get baked many months or years in advance.

It's not a linear progression, your vector shifts across multiple axes.

You can't behave like a 200 person company, the way you did as a 50 person company. Who does what matters!

Most people get this, but can't or won't do much about it.

Most managers stay managers for years on end, even if their titles change. They continue doing scrums, one on ones, running cadences or processes, and whatever it is they are used to doing, barely finding time in between to think about vision, strategy, or where their teams are headed a year or two years from now.

95% effort goes into making sure the trains are on time.

If they're lucky, they hire a great #2, who can run sh$t for them. But even then it's a herculean task to shed legacy, uproot themselves, and plant themselves in completely unfamiliar turf.

This is the surest way to win the battle and lose the war.

Because day-to-day nothing changes, but when you look back a year has gone by and you're still that company that's trying to come to terms with its potential.

So, how should one fix this? A few simple but not easy steps:

Revisit your organisation structure

At $1M or so revenue you should have a VP (or stretch Director) for most functions and they should have a Director (or a senior Manager). If not, you should have a deliberate plan to fill in those roles with time and post a milestone.

At various points in your journey, different functions take precedence over the other. For instance, in your 0-1, everything revolves around Sales. Then during the 1-10-100 journey, depending on your category or market, other functions become central periodically.

But, if you haven't developed these functions sufficiently, they won't just come into fruition when you need them. You need to invest in a strong org structure and leadership now to ensure the function is mature enough when you really need it.

Optimise manager span

Find your equivalent of Jeff Bezos' “Two Pizza Rule” (consider how many people you could feed with two pizzas and that's how many people you should have on a team). And optimise for it deliberately. Otherwise, you're accumulating management debt.

People obsess about the numbers (and the size of the pizzas). But, that's missing the point. Find your sweet spot. Too small and you have too many managers and bloated management; too large and you're not agile enough and your goals can slip through the cracks.

Remember also that a manager has to take on career development goals for the people on their team. You don't want to hire managers from the market, you want to develop your own. So pick a number based on these constraints.

Accountability across hierarchy

If you miss your monthly goals or scrums, blame the manager. If you miss your quarter's goals, blame the Director. If you miss the year's goals, blame the VP. And so forth. This should be obvious beyond measure.

That's a simple heuristic but you get the point. Fill in as many Senior Managers or Assistant VPS as you need to serve a functional purpose. But, essentially people should aspire to do one up but never have to do one down.

At scale, “everybody does everything” loosely translates to everybody does the same thing. You have a bunch of people overlapping on the same objectives at different levels and your vector moves along a unidimensional axis.

These aren't anything new, only that you have to pay attention to them.

A lot of management is about making deliberate choices and one of those important choices is who does what.


This article was first published in August 2021.

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Topics: Leadership, Employee Relations, Employee Engagement, #GuestArticle

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