Getting to Initial Scale

7 Things as CEO You Can Do Today To Be a Better Manager

echojason@gmail.com'

Jason Lemkin

This new-ish phase of my life as a VC is really the first time I’ve ever worked with CEOs who weren’t formally (or at least, informally) trained as managers.  My bosses all came up through the ranks.  I went from Director to VP to Founder to CEO.  Most of my SaaS CEO peers, back in the day, had management experience under their belt.

It’s fine.  You can learn this stuff, and all that really matters is attracting a great team under you.  Really, that’s all that matters post-Initial Traction.

But if you come up through the ranks — you at least get to observe how others do it.  If you skip past all this, you may have missed seeing some basic stuff in practice that just helps.

So if you haven’t hired and managed managers before … my learning even in The Age of Teal … is that a few simple-ish processes can make being a Better Manager as simple as pie.

Here are my top suggestions:

  • Have unstructured weekly, or at least biweekly, 1-on-1 with all your VPs.  So many folks just don’t do this.  The key is to have no deep agenda, that it not be a performance review.  It’s the opposite.  It’s a chance for each VP to raise thoughts on his or her mind, without structure or boundaries.  To brainstorm.  To get help.  To show off.  To get some love from Mom or Dad.  Whatever it is.  It can be a 20 minute meeting.  But you gotta do this.
  • weshouldtalkThen, try to get your VPs to have 1-on-1s with each other.  Your VP of Sales and VP of Marketing need their own 1-on-1.  If they haven’t done this before, get them to.  Same with VP of Product and Engineering.  Sales and Customer Success, etc.  Yes — they work together Every Single Day.  But that’s not the same thing. >> Offer to pick up the tab for lunch or dinners here. <<
  • Have weekly staff meetings.  Yes, you need to do this.  Every week, the management team gets together for 30-45 minutes and just updates everyone on what they are working on.  I know you Slack and email.  But this forces you to do it together.  As CEO, have a really basic agenda for this one (unlike 1-on-1s) … but really basic.
  • Have a core set of goals and KPIs everyone always uses and tracks to.  Start with your ARR goals for the year.  Make sure everyone in the company knows your Top 5 Goals.  That they’re reviewed at every company meeting.  Every team meeting.  Every board meeting.  One set of goals, that can be judged.  And update them everytime you are together.
  • Have Your VPs Present — and Present More Than You — at Board Meetings.  Ok, board meetings in the early-ish days can seem like a bit of a tax.  Don’t let them be.  Use them as a vehicle to push the team.  Make sure each board meeting has sections for every functional area — and have the owner present, not you.  Your board members talk to you enough.  They don’t hear from your team enough.  From them, they’ll learn a lot.  And even more importantly, it will create external accountability for your VPs.  They’ll know they have to be accountable not just to you, but the board too.  This really works.  So — as CEO — talk less in board meetings.  And try to not talk barely at all in the functional areas of your VPs.
  • Recycle your Board Meeting Presentations as Company Meetings.  Transparency builds trust.  Take your board meeting materials, make a few edits, and then do it again in front of the whole company.   Your VPs won’t have to do much extra work this way.  The employees get more info than they’d otherwise … and they’ll feel like the insiders they are and should be.
  • Celebrate.  Now that I’ve worked with several start-ups that have gone from nothing to $5m, then $10m ARR, and beyond — HEY WHERE WERE THE PARTIES?  You gotta celebrate, and spend some coin.  Do it nice.  Your team and employees may not remember a 2.34% bonus.  But they will remember that amazing retreat you went on.  That crazy outing.  Do it.  And not on the cheap.  Together.   And make them feel special.  They are.

Most first-time CEOs I see do almost none of these 7 suggestions.  They each are relatively trivial to implement.  And I bet they’ll have an outsized impact on communication and morale across the team.  And make you a better CEO — almost overnight.

image from here

Published on September 3, 2015
  • Jason,

    Really interesting set of actions you suggest. It feels like the key actions that Ben Horowitz is referring to when he wrote: (http://www.bhorowitz.com/one_on_one)

    “Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company. The architecture might include the organizational design, meetings, processes, email, yammer and even one-on-one meetings with managers and employees. Absent a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work.”

    Given that well known, respected, and widely read investors like you and Horowitz preach this, why do you think that so many founders ignore this or commonly put it off over and over again?

    It seems like there’s a vicious cycle of poor management at many companies because there isn’t experienced leadership bought into the behaviors and that trickles down to the rest of the team. They then bring the wrong habits to the next company they work at or start as well.

    Thanks,
    Jason

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