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  • Writer's pictureChrista Dhimo, Impono LLC

The StartUp Corner: Great Management Must Start at Day One

Being in a startup you want to keep things fluid. We know this. Founders fight for it (sometimes to the point where they fail). Start-up employees trade big perks for it.

But "fluid" doesn't mean lax management practices. It just means "fluid": the ability to shift and change with the currents and situations. Start-ups experience this all the time, and we argue (sometimes forcibly) that as a result, effective management is every bit a requirement as funding.

In order to build an efficient company with smart use of scarce funds and resources, each day means a gap that is newly discovered or cannot be ignored anymore must be filled. It takes a scrappy, resourceful, gritty team to do that, and your ability to shift gears, going forward and backward or sideways without your gears grinding or jamming is a critical skill-- nay a talent. And it requires some of the best and most effective/efficient management skills possible.


Effective Management Practices = Success (and has nothing to do with "structure")

The most prevalent start-up polars we experience with our Impono clients are the start-ups that have all the ideas and no structure, or the start-ups that have all the structure buried in their ideas.

We help find middle ground so they can shift, swell, and contract with the weather and pressure conditions, as well as the setbacks, wins and learning points, that are prevalent in every start-up, early-stage and emerging company... and any company, really.

Most start-ups think the CEO and Founder sets the tone for how a company manages these conditions, and a lot of time that is true. But there is only role that directly impacts the success of a start-up: the Manager.

Those who manage the employees have the successfactor power in a start-up and small company. In mid-sized and larger companies, there is enough diversity for any employee to find their way amidst more sophisticated tools and processes (hopefully). But in start-ups and small company, where everything is exposed and structure is often built as a matter of a response instead of a plan (we're trying to change that), the field and commons are small, and the moods and lines of communication are very noticeable.

We've talked about the importance of finding a CEO and leadership that is comfortable and competence in start-up companies. Now we look to the same importance from a Management perspective, and key to finding the right fit is related to how a manager views "Team."

Team discussion, Team dissent, Team opinion, Team effectiveness, Team needs, Team mood, Team culture, Team illness, Team communications, Team roles and responsibilities, Team happiness, Team pain-- team, team, team.

Start-ups do not have the luxury of missing the mark. They don't have the luxury of losing their best, and they don't have the infrastructure to hire the best unless all else outshines what a larger company can provide. Everything must start with Team.

Now, we're not talking about structure and an overabundance of governance (though that is required in start-ups, structure should be a "working draft" at ALL times in a company). The best considerations are related to people:

  • What skills and personality traits do you need to balance out the team (not grow a homogenous team, but balance it out?)

  • How do you hire a team member and then introduce to the team?

  • How do you allow the team to grow and expand with new team members?

  • How do you refresh the team periodically so they remain in sync with each other, ready to collaborate and work through conflict in a constructive way?


A Real-World Context Straight from An Impono Associate

A couple of years ago we hired an Impono Associate who had deep experience in the "Team Arena" to help us with a start-up in the middle of a large and fast expansion. We hired her because of her first-hand experience with how she herself was last hired as a full-time employee, including how she was (or wasn't) integrated in a start-up.

Here's how she explained it to us:

"... the real challenge was my first day, when I entered the business as part of a skeletal team and no one knew what my role was. I had fleshed out a good level of detail in my employment contract, I had talked to various leaders at HQ (which was in a different country), and I had even spent time with one of the Investors prior to my employment. We all seemed to be on the same page, and everyone agreed on the details of my role and employment terms.

"Two weeks later I walked into my startup office as the fourth full-time employee to find that 30 minutes before my arrival a contracted consultant had started a team meeting that-- according to my employment contract-- was supposed to be my responsibility.

"Throughout the next two days, I found to my dismay and confusion that every team member, most contractors at the time, had a different understanding of my role and a far lower understanding of my position. I was offered a senior leadership role to start-up the company and integrate the critical elements of every aspect for business build and product launch; instead, the entire team thought I was a task-managing project manager hired to coordinate team activities and take notes during the team meetings.

"What I found to be a major root-cause, among others, was the lack of focus on Team and the lack of a much-needed communication stream for that team. There was no official introduction of me. There was no clarification of my critical role or any communication about the vital deliverables I was to be held accountable to, all the way up to the Board-- items that were negotiated directly with the Board and the Investors.

"The real problem wasn't just negligent leadership that most would point toward, but a complete lack of basic management skills that should have come from the top. While I was able to develop internal partnerships and established my competence by wearing many hats-- from validating and auditing strategy to execution of that strategy, from purchasing all the phone systems and laptops to setting up all the infrastructure so the company could run smoothly and compliantly-- the team and company would have gotten more of what I have to offer if I had simply been introduced on my first day based on the details of my employment contract and role."


The Solution: Insist on Great Management, Starting with You

We aren't suggesting a big-world, big-company all-day orientation for start-ups bringing new people on board, but we ARE saying that appropriate team focus on anyone's first day is essential for heightened performance and team health.

Here are three solid rules to live by:

1) Introduce new hires as people and as workers: who are they is important and so is what they are being held accountable to. Everyone should know that so in the following months they can not only adjust the team dynamics in a healthy way, but also leverage the new hire to the greatest extent.

2) Heed the dynamics of the team, and do not judge the adjustment-- respect the adjustment instead. Start-up employees (particularly those on board since the first days) have a pride of ownership that runs deeper than any pride can possible run. Take care not to dismiss or underestimate their feelings and potential insecurities as you begin to hire more experts who might have more experience. Watch your team, heed the dynamics, and bring someone in to help you with your organizational development structures as you grow. Attending to these elements early on will set you up for high performance during high growth, and help your team (and business!) hum.

3) The all-encompassing: know your management limitations and get help when it is needed. Here's how you can tell if you're a great manager: people keep their meetings with you, they talk to you and you listen most of the time, and you see the team as the greater sum of its parts. It's not good enough to say, "I know I'm not a great communicator." Own it and fix it or move aside and let others manager your team. Your team doesn't have the time to accommodate the management basics you may not have.

BOTTOM LINE: Great Management Starts at Day One.


We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

© Impono LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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