Manager of managers

Manager of Managers

A common challenge faced by my business owner clients as their company scales is the role transition from “managing a team” to becoming a “manager of managers”.

This important transition gives business owners more leverage and bandwidth to focus on the big picture and drive overall company strategy. It also increases company valuation.

In early-stage growth companies, the owners work in the business as functional team managers, i.e. they directly supervise the work and are accountable for the performance of one or more teams (Marketing, Sales, Operations, Finance, etc). In many cases, they still pitch in and do a bit of the work themselves to support the team.

But as a company grows in size and complexity, it can become increasingly important to hire a team of specialist managers for each function, and for the owners to pass the baton to these new managers to grow team performance to the next level.

As discussed in a previous article, I encourage clients to apply the “18 Month Rule” when hiring senior managers for a business function, i.e. hire a manager who has already operated at the level you want your team to be at in 18 months’ time, so they can “pull your team up” to the next level.

Having made these new management hires, business owners are now one step removed from the work, and it requires a different style of management to get the best results from your people.

Becoming a “manager of managers” requires a mindset shift. It means giving your new managers the space and autonomy to shine. If you try to meddle in their work they can feel disempowered and disengaged.

That being said, delegation is not abdication. In my experience, to successfully delegate and hand off your functional management duties requires clarity and alignment on the following:

  • Strategic priorities (aka Big Rocks) – so they know what is important
  • Metrics (KPIs) – so they know how their performance will be measured
  • Key duties and % time allocation – so they know how to allocate their time

To clarify the last point: if you expect your new sales manager to spend 2 days every week in the field accompanying the field sales team on customer visits, make this expectation clear upfront.

Moving forward, you meet 1-1 with your managers every week to review progress, hold them accountable for meeting the agreed standards, and provide coaching and support.

But you do not do the work for them or meddle in their work by sending mixed messages to their direct reports. Your mantra for success should be, “Nose in, fingers out”.

You need to operate at a “higher altitude”. Failing to make this “altitude” transition creates bottlenecks and frustrations.

I illustrate this concept by showing clients a picture of a beautiful Persian rug. Instead of being down in the carpet navigating the tufts of wool (the bug’s-eye-view), you must step back and focus on the overall pattern of the carpet (the bird’s-eye-view).

Rather than focusing on a single functional team’s performance and “managing a team”, your new highest-value activities are those that align and coordinate the work of multiple teams to support the company’s strategic direction. You make the transition to becoming a “manager of managers”.

Remember, “Nose in, fingers out”.

Until next time…