5 tips on managing teams

June 4, 2010

Many founders struggle through product development, fundraising, sales, and team building and think they’ve got it made. But when it comes time to lead and manage the troops, they find themselves clueless. Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Leading and managing are different. Leading is about sharing your vision for the future, and getting your team motivated to make it happen. Managing is about making sure everyone is doing what they should, the way they should, on a day-to-day basis. Every company needs both. That said, some founders are great at both, while others find they are better at one than the other, and a partner or key lieutenant to fill in the gap.

2. This is not something you can outsource. As a founder, you MUST be involved in leading, managing, or both. One of my clients loves to sell but hates to manage. The minute she gets to the office, she closes her door and picks up the phone. She lands a lot of customers, but not without a lot of headaches. Her operations aren’t running as smoothly and efficiently as they should. Several top employees recently left for other jobs. And she’s even missing new business opportunities because she’s not on top of the details of what happens on the front lines. My advice to her: Find a great person to run operations, and manage employees. Add visionary leader to your role. Go to every staff meeting and fire up the troops, sharing your view on where the business is going.

3. Get the right talent in place. Marcus Buckingham wrote two books on management I recommend, both based on information gleaned from The Gallup Organization’s study of over 80,000 managers. In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Buckingham argues that people in business should put themselves in roles where they can take advantage of their natural talents. Instead of trying to fix their weaknesses, however, they should assign responsibilities to others who have the right stuff. Keep his advice in mind as you screen new hires and assign roles.

4. Give your people what they need to excel. In another book entitled First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham explains that employees reporting to great managers answer yes to the following questions:

  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday?
  • In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise?
  • Does my supervisor seem to care about me as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  • Does the purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  • Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  • Do I have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  • This last year, have I had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?

If your employees feel the same way, you’ll probably find they do better work, share positive views of the company, and stick around for the long haul.

5. Look in the mirror. In Good Boss, Bad Boss, and his blog post here, Stanford Professor Robert Sutton makes a compelling case for the way good managers think:

  • I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  • Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day.
  • One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  • My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
  • I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.
  • One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?”

Got a tip on managing? Please share.

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4 tips on building an advisory board

June 4, 2010

This week, two UpStart coaching clients told me the same thing:  “It’s great having someone to help me think through tough issues.”  One is based in the middle of Manhattan; the other on a remote Pacific island. But they both effectively said “it’s lonely at the top.” Even the greatest athletes need coaches. The same is true for founders. That’s why I recommend that founders build advisory boards.

1. What an advisory board is, and isn’t. Don’t confuse advisors / a board of advisors with directors / a board of directors. As a CEO, the board of directors is your boss. Directors take a formal role in overseeing the business, often representing shareholders, approving budgets, and deciding who should act as CEO. In contrast, advisors work for the CEO. Advisors provide feedback, advice and introductions to investors, customers, and business partners – as needed.

2. Who to put on your advisory board. To establish an advisory board, start by picking three to five areas where you really need help. Maybe you want a person who has a “golden Rolodex” of industry contacts, another person who is great at sales, and/or a person with expertise in an area where you are weak, like finance or marketing. Then come up with a list of dream advisors in each group, and network your way to them. Make sure each advisor is the kind of person who will enjoy sharing her expertise and helping you build the business from the sidelines as a mentor or coach.

3. How to structure advisory board deals. Be specific about the role you want each advisor to play, and the amount of time and type of assistance you will want from then. I typically tell advisors I’ll need them to put in about one hour per week on average. In exchange for their help, I grant advisors equity options in the range of one percent of the company, vesting over three to four years. As always, run advisory board deals by your lawyer and accountant.

4. How to work with advisors. Advisors can function both as specialists and generalists. Give individual advisors specific requests for assistance (e.g. please see if you can help me get to the CEO of customer X). Then schedule a meeting or call at regular intervals (e.g. once per month or quarter), and use it as an opportunity to get feedback on general issues, like opportunities, threats, and major decisions. Keep in mind, you don’t have to follow their advice (but if you don’t, explain why).


Tommy Hilfiger interview: Team, team, team

May 19, 2010

Tommy Hilfiger is the founder of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. An entrepreneur from his earliest days, Tommy skipped college to run a string of retail stores in upstate New York. He later turned down highly sought-after fashion design job offers to start a company of his own. In 1995, Tommy was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Three years later Parsons School of Design named him Designer of the Year. By 2004 Tommy Hilfiger Corporation had over 5,000 employees and revenue of more than $1.8 billion. Private investment company Apax Partners acquired the business in 2006.

UpStart: What does it take to be a great entrepreneur?”

Tommy Hilfiger: “I think skills and personality traits are more important than background. I never went to college or design school, but I had passion, drive, and resourcefulness in droves. When I launched Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, I wasn’t trained in the conventional rules of business, but that worked to my advantage. I experimented. I made bold moves. And I adapted as I learned. I credit much of my success to my drive to win and my fear of losing.”

UpStart:  “To what degree was your team responsible for your success?”

Tommy Hilfiger: “I’ve always been aware of my strengths and also my weaknesses. Because I acknowledge my weaknesses, I’ve been able to surround myself with people whose skills complement mine. Building great teams has been essential to my success.”


5 tips for startup CEOs

May 5, 2010

Good news: You’ve come up with an idea, planned a new business, launched a product, and secured funding.

Bad news: Now comes the hard part.

Here’s some advice for those of you running startup organizations.

1.) Stay focused. Great entrepreneurs know what they’re going after and don’t let anything get in the way—including tangential opportunities that are best left to be done down the line. Keep your strategy and tactics simple and get the execution right. Hit your initial milestones before you branch out into new territory. Learn to say “no”.

2.) Get help. It takes a village to build a company. You can’t do it alone. Enlist the support of your investors, advisors, partners, family, and friends. These people make up your extended team. This is no time to be proud. Be aware of your weaknesses, and shore them up by getting help.

3.) Stop and reflect. Building a company is a bit like swimming underwater. You set your sights, dive down, and swim all-out and as long as you can hold your breath. But you have to surface periodically to breathe and get your bearings. With a startup, you have to stop swimming once in a while. You’ll need to see what’s going on in the world around you, make sure you are still swimming in the right direction, and take stock of your accomplishments as well as the challenges ahead.

4.) Track progress. Set quantitative goals for the business, make your extended team aware of them, and measure your results against your goals. It will help you stay honest with yourself and your stakeholders, and give you added encouragement to produce results.

5.) Adjust strategy. Chances are, the first strategy you follow won’t be the one that ultimately prevails. The trick is to stick with good ideas long enough to see if they can work, but be ready to let go of them before it’s too late. How do you know when it’s time? Use progress against your goals as a measurement and your extended team as judges.

What are YOUR tips for leading startup teams?