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Are you seeing these 4 signs? Your managers might be struggling

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Previously on Scaling Start-Ups,

Founder: When we are growing so fast, there are times, I feel like my managers are not stepping up 😞

Me: What does ‘not stepping up’ look like?

Founder: They are just not doing their job. I have this gut feeling that I can’t articulate 😑

Me: What do you do when you feel that way?

Founder: As the founder, I have to step in. The work needs to be done and we need to keep on delivering 💪

Me: …


As a founder, if you find yourself frequently having to step in to do work that is the responsibility of your manager, it can mean 2 things:

1️⃣ the manager not having the capabilities to effectively perform in their role OR

2️⃣ you are not effectively managing your manager.

Check your own expectations

Too many times we put someone in a management role when we ourselves are unclear of what we are expecting of them. In Episode 2 of this season’s blog, I described the 4 types of management roles:

4 types of management roles

Each of the management roles comes with a different scope of accountabilities and impact. Assuming your expectations are aligned with the role your manager is in, then there is usually one early indicator at each level when your manager is not effectively meeting their role expectations.

IC to MG1: From Individual Contributor to managing Individual Contributors

We see this over and over again in organisations. The best engineer, the best sales representative, or the best recruiter is promoted to manage other engineers, sales executives or recruiters. The transition from being a technical specialist (aka individual contributor) to managing people is the biggest step change in mindset for one’s role in terms of what success looks like.

“Moving from an individual contributor (IC) to a management role is not just a step up the ladder, but a jump to an entirely new ladder in terms of skills, motivation, perspectives, responsibilities and impact to the organisation" Sidney Fuchs

If an MG1 manager 💥continues to do more of what they used to do (code more, sell more, recruit more!) and continue to do it themselves - this is a sign that they have not fully grasped their transition into a management role. You will probably even hear the manager saying, "It will be quicker or better if I do this myself!”

The role of the manager is not to do the work themselves (even if they are the best at it!) because it will only take them so far. The role of a manager is to have a multiplier impact on their team; enabling the team to achieve more as a collective rather than what they can achieve as an individual. To accomplish this, they need to focus on managing and influencing the team’s strategy, capabilities, structure, process and systems, data and ways of working principles (6 Foundations).

💡 The mindset shift that needs to happen is:

From “How can I do this better or quicker?” To “How can I influence the 6 Foundations (team’s strategy, capabilities, structure, process and systems, data and ways of working principles) to improve my team’s outcomes, performance and wellbeing?”

MG1 to MG2: From managing individuals to managing managers

Are you experiencing 💥misalignment across multiple teams, disagreement on priorities and potentially even blame culture between teams? This is a potential sign that your manager of managers is struggling to step effectively into their new role.

In an MG2 management role, one of the main shifts in scope and accountabilities is to coordinate and align multiple teams to achieve collective goals. The role will require the manager to influence the 6 Foundations across multiple teams and understand the complex interdependencies of strategy, people capabilities, structure, process and systems, data and ways of working.

💡The mindset shift that needs to happen is:

From “How can I enable my team to perform?” To “How can I align and influence multiple teams to achieve collective goals?”

MG2 to MG3: From managing managers to managing a function

As you are scaling fast, you want to be moving forward with momentum on as clear a path as possible. Instead, you may find that 💥every time you move one step forward, you move two steps back, knee-deep in the same problems. If you are constantly falling into this situation, this is a manifestation that your MG3 manager is not scaling into their role.

The role of MG3 managers is to set functional strategies and plan forward for opportunities and challenges that are long-term (at least 6 to 12 months) in nature. After all, they are the domain experts of the functional areas they manage. They need to plan for future trends (e.g. better technology to scale, change in consumer spending habits or employee trends in the job market) and remove blockers to pave a clearer path forward for their department.

💡The focus shift that needs to happen is:

From “How can I enable my department to achieve collective goals now?” To “How can I foresee the opportunities and challenges ahead to enable us to move forward?”

MG3 to MG4: From managing function to managing business

MG4 managers are probably the most experienced managers in your organisation. They have led teams, formulated long-term functional strategies and have experiences across a wide spectrum of industries, organisations and cultures. What could possibly go wrong?

A scenario that may feel very familiar: during an exec meeting, I found myself getting frustrated. Yet again, it’s another meeting in which we cannot come to an agreement or decision! I enjoyed working with each individual in that meeting - they have impressive experience and I learned a lot from them. But how can it be that a bunch of well-intentioned people find it SO hard to work together? I remember vividly when the penny dropped for me. Each executive was primarily advocating for their own department.

The sign when an MG4 (execs) manager fails to scale into this role is when they constantly 💥make decisions that are right for the department but may not be right for the business as a whole. They lack consideration and accountability for the impact on the business. Instead, they focus on optimising the departments they manage.

💡The focus shift that needs to happen is:

From “How can I make decisions that have a positive impact on what my department is responsible for?” To “How can I make decisions that have a positive impact on all departments in the company and the business?”

Clarity and simplicity are the antidotes to uncertainty and complexity

I am not getting into the details of leadership development in this blog, that is a whole different world of complexity!

However, more often than not, in my experience, just stepping back and having a conversation about the role expectations with the manager actually helps the individual to reflect and recalibrate their actions.

Don’t be surprised that the simplest answer sometimes is the solution.


In the next episode...

Founder: I noticed my exec team are very capable in their functional areas. But sometimes I feel like they don’t talk to each other. I am stuck in between 😖

Me: How are they collaborating on dependencies? For example priorities between Product and Tech? Commercial and Product? HR and Finance?

Founder: I have to admit, I have to play referee and be the tiebreaker because my execs cannot come to an agreement on priorities😩

How do you get your management team to work together?

Click next to find out more.

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