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.


5 ways to manage financial risk at a startup.

May 6, 2010

Of all the things founders worry about when starting a business, losing money is often at the top of the list. Here are a few ways to limit financial risks for yourself, and for your investors:

1. Take a phased approach. Plan your business in time segments, like months or quarters (4 months). Set specific goals for each phase, with budgets, and ways to measure your performance. That way, you can stop every once in a while, take stock of how you are doing, and decide how to proceed—without any nasty financial surprises.

2. Track all expenses. If you don’t measure it, you can’t control it. A simple way to do this is to use a dedicated bank account and credit/debit card, so you’ll have all the numbers in one place.

3. Make sure everyone involved is aware of the risks, and can afford to lose the money they’ve put up. That includes spouses and kids, as well as investors.

4. Keep partners, families and investors up to date on progress and setbacks. Try sending a monthly email report, with information about each important area of the business.

5. Know when to fold ‘em. If things are going poorly, and you really don’t think they’ll turn around, consider exit options that will return at least some of the money put into the business. For example, look for ways to sell off assets, and close up shop while there’s still some cash in the bank.

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?