Managing the Managers: Nine Tips to Help Social Enterprises Build Outstanding Management Teams
As an entrepreneur, I’ve always found it ironic to hear investors claim that the founding team is THE most important factor when considering where to invest – then see them spend the vast majority of their time analyzing the quality of our prototype and the appearance of our financials. Startups can fail for lots of reasons, but research shows that not having the right team is one of the leading contributors to their failure. So why is it that investors don’t spend more time during diligence analyzing the quality of our team, our ability to work together, and our ability to lead and develop our managers?
For social enterprises working in emerging economies, the power of the team is even more important given the constraint of other resources. According to the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs’ 2016 State of the Small and Growing Business Sector report, “Finding talented managers is a critical challenge for entrepreneurs everywhere, but it is especially difficult in emerging markets” — a data point that continues to be emphasized in every report since. Not only are managers critical for scaling your organization, but they are also the foundational elements of effective team work, and talent recruitment and retention. Simply stated, developing managers is as critical to a business as developing its product-market fit.
At this year’s SOCAP19 conference, I led a panel with Allie Burns, CEO at Village Capital and Kate Cochran, CEO at Upaya Social Ventures to explore how the sector can invest more in building the managerial excellence – or at least competence – to help great ideas scale. Here are the nine key lessons we discussed.
Create a high-performing culture that people want to work in
Culture at an organization refers to the informal rules that guide how individuals collaborate, problem-solve and innovate. Culture reflects a company’s personalities, mission and customers. And as much as culture can vary across organizations, one thing is certain: Companies with strong learning cultures outperform those without them.
As you start hiring and developing your team, you can use culture to inform the way you all work and grow together. The Village Capital Talent Playbook offers guidance to help you and your team develop this culture. Research from Google provides additional insights about what your culture should do.
Build the skills and abilities of your existing team
All startups and business are strapped for cash, and are likely to deprioritize learning. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The most effective learning cultures follow a 70/20/10 rule: 70% of a manager’s time is spent on learning from challenging assignments, 20% is spent learning from other team members, and 10% is spent learning from courses and training.
Great leaders build the team behind the entrepreneur. In addition, offering incentives – like learning budgets and allocated “growth” time – can provide a strong recruiting benefit. With tools like LinkedIn Learning, Degreed and Coursera, building skills has never been easier. But it takes more than simply sponsoring a seat on a learning platform: Instead, great managers will help their teammates identify their own growth areas, and then help develop learning plans which follow the 70/20/10 rule. This means that managers will help guide employees on what skills to learn, encourage them to discuss that with peers, and then give them a safe place to learn and grow in that skill area.
Assess your talent gaps and write great job descriptions
If you’ve met an entrepreneur, you’ve met someone who has made a hiring mistake – most likely as a result of hiring the wrong person for the wrong job. In our SOCAP panel, we shared the following tips to avoid this pitfall:
- Use a process, like the MovingWorlds Skills Gap Analysis (slide #14 of our presentation at SOCAP), to determine the skills you need in the future, and how to best fill those gaps.
- Talk to your board, mentors, and/or coach for an outsider’s perspective on where your team might be falling short.
- Hold a session with your team to brainstorm the types of skills needed to take your organization to the next level.
- Write a job description, and vet the description with your management team, mentor, investors, stakeholders and peers.
- Test your job description on real people who fit the profile that a job post is meant to attract before broadcasting it far and wide.
- Do additional online research, or even hire a consultant, to find out what makes a great job description for your role, country and organization size.
Get creative in finding and closing the best possible talent
Good managers are hard to find. But as Rippleworks shares, there ARE ways to compete for talent, even if you don’t have market-level compensation. Ideas for finding the best talent include:
- Posting on leading social impact job boards
- Using platforms like MovingWorlds and Shortlist
- Going on LinkedIn and personally reaching out to people who meet the description of your needs
- Sharing news of your hiring needs with key partners, suppliers, investors and others in your network
- Networking locally
Screen potential talent to ensure proper skills AND cultural fit
Entrepreneurs tend to jump into things without extensive analysis – that kind of bold confidence is likely what makes them successful. But with hiring, this has to change. If you’ve taken the time to develop a strong culture, it should be easy to brainstorm with your team different ways to screen for cultural fit. You can do additional research to find other best-practices for cultural fit in publications like First Round Review.
At MovingWorlds, we developed a screening framework for every single hire to make sure we get the cultural fit right:
- The team aligns on what factors we need to screen for.
- Each potential hire is assigned a series of factors to be screened for.
- We develop a “bar” to determine what constitutes a minimum level of assurance for each factor.
- We choose a diversity of interview techniques that will be used (i.e. mock presentation, writing test, video interview, working session, etc.)
- We pressure test our findings by putting the potential hire in a real-world scenario with our team.
- We deliberate by comparing the needs that we established at the beginning with what we discovered about the candidate through the interview process.
Onboard talent incrementally
If you find someone to join your team, be creative about onboarding them the right way. In many places, once you’ve hired someone, it is hard to remove them from your team if they are not a good fit. As Cochran at Upaya shared: “The most dangerous talent you can hire is not bad talent, as that person will be removed or removed themselves quickly. The most dangerous talent is mediocre talent, because it lowers the capability of the entire organization.” While it’s easy to fire terrible talent, you can’t remove mediocre talent as easily. As such, you need to do everything possible to only hire great talent – for instance, Amazon has a rule of hiring people that are better than at least 50% of their existing employee base. There are a few ways that you can incrementally onboard talent without hiring them as full-time right away:
- Engage them as volunteers first.
- Hire them as part-time contractors.
- Do a one-week trial with them (they can take vacation/leave from their current job and they can work with you during that time).
- Bring them on client, customer and/or beneficiary visits.
- Host an evening or weekend workshop to see them in action with your team.
Develop managers that can develop others
Whether you are new to managing others or have decades of experience, your goal as a manager is to be a “multiplier.” The term comes from one of the most comprehensive studies on what makes an excellent manager: the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” by Liz Wiseman. One of the most important traits of effective managers is the ability to be effective coaches. The GROW model is a well-proven management technique to teach managers about effective coaching, that anybody can easily learn and practice. In addition, reading “Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth” by Richard Boyatzis will help you develop coaching abilities (there’s a great summary podcast in HBR here). More research from Google outlines 10 characteristics of managers who build high-performing teams (and interestingly, the company found that creating “psychological safety” among its teams – so employees can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed – is a key to maximizing their performance).
But oftentimes, managers feel like they don’t have enough time or guidance to grow as effective leaders. In these cases, there are three simple steps that can be used to make a massive leap forward in managerial effectiveness:
- Set clear goals (Like MovingWorlds’ “Objectives and Key Results” framework – you can read our internal training deck here).
- Hold monthly business/goal progress reviews (there are good tips here).
- Host weekly one-on-one meetings with your direct reports (useful ideas here).
Run effective meetings
There are many guides to effective meetings – and yet ineffective meetings happen all the time. You’ll need to experiment to find the types of meeting structures that work best at your company, but in general, companies with effective meetings ask a few key questions beforehand:
- Why are meetings held? There can be multiple reasons, with the most common being decision-making, updates, retrospectives, one-on-ones, brainstorming and strategy. But if meetings are being organized, the “why” of the meeting must be clearly communicated.
- Who attends the meetings? Companies should have a clear accountability matrix (like RACI) for all projects, and depending on the type of meeting (i.e. decision-making vs. update meetings), only the relevant stakeholders should be invited.
- How are meetings held? Meetings should be held in structured formats to help ensure effectiveness. This includes starting a meeting with the objectives and agenda, maintaining the “why” of the meeting during discussions, and then having time for an effective wrap-up (the New York Times has a great guide for meetings).
- What is the decision-making process at meetings? At the start of the meeting, it should be made clear who the decision makers are for the topic at hand, so that resolutions can be made clearly. (Slack has a nice guide for this.)
- When are meetings held? Some meeting types should have a set cadence, like monthly business reviews, one-on-ones, and strategy meetings. Others can happen more on-demand, like decision-making meetings or brainstorms. Another factor to consider is the timing of meetings, so that they are scheduled during a time that is inclusive of team members’ different work styles.
- How will we make the meeting inclusive? So often, startup meetings are dominated by the biggest personalities (often the founders). Steps should be taken to harness diverse opinions and make sure all voices are heard, which requires that meetings involve more than just speaking. They should also involve time for reading and reflection.
Create organization-wide systems and processes that enable managers to succeed
People get busy, priorities change and mistakes happen. Simply mandating that managers be good managers is not enough. Leadership must continue to evolve and strengthen its culture to inspire managers to embody positive management qualities, and then hold them accountable in maintaining them.
In addition, leaders (including the company’s board) should audit managers’ performance and ensure that they are implementing best practices and continuing to improve. This can be done with a combination of surveys, observations, skip-level conversations and periodic audits of practices.
In one startup we supported, quarterly surveys were issued to track which employees were clear on their goals, who was having their manager one-on-ones, and a variety of other questions: The goal was to discern whether the company’s culture was safe, supportive and being upheld. At another startup, the “Head of People Operations and Culture” would stand up at every new employee training and every monthly all-hands meeting to remind all employees about the expectations for regular one-on-ones with their managers, quarterly personal development plan updates, and monthly goal-setting document updates and audits.
Building the skills of managers is hard, but it’s one of the most important things we can do to help social impact startups grow and flourish. As you think about developing your own high-performing team, remember these nine lessons. And if you want to get more involved in building the skills of people behind world-changing ideas, make sure to subscribe to the Village Capital newsletter, donate to Upaya Social Ventures, and consider applying to the MovingWorlds Institute Professional Fellowship.
Photo courtesy of fumingli.