Connect with us

Entrepreneurship

How Messed Up Is Your Management?

Published

on

It’s taken me 15 years in this industry to figure out how to be any good at what I do. I don’t know how to write it all down yet, but I’m going to give a piece of it away to you in the next 5 minutes.

It starts with an observation that is controversial to many folks, even though I think it’s like saying that water is wet:

Managing people is exceptionally hard to do well. People are complex, and organizations are just full of them.

I have managed many people at a variety of scales, and worked with leaders of other organizations big and small. I’ve trained up new managers and watched them grow into strong leaders. I’ve sat with them through hirings, and firings, and watched them struggle with both. I’ve had members of my teams get married, get divorced, have kids, lose kids, attempt suicide and (mercifully) fail. I have had an employee die, and to this day the social network birthday reminders gut me. No one who takes management seriously, and does it well, finds this stuff easy. No one who’s been at it for very long imagines that there are shortcuts.

But, as PT Barnum probably didn’t say:

There’s a sucker born every minute.

The infatuation with management shortcuts, particularly in startup culture, is rampant. The charitable explanation is that a lot of classic management practice feels slow, and founders are trying to unfetter their people. I think the harsher, truer explanation is that many founders are inexperienced managers, and don’t understand the trade-offs they’re making at their employees’ expense.

Let’s Try a Quiz

Score 1 “My management culture is messed up” point for each of the following:

  • We have an unlimited vacation policy
  • We don’t do regular 1:1s, but we have open office hours/are super available if anyone wants to chat
  • We don’t have a process for interviewing, we just hire awesome people when we meet them
  • We super care about diversity, but we don’t want to lower the bar so we just hire the best person for the job even if it means diversity suffers
  • We don’t have defined levels and career paths for our employees, we’re a really flat org
  • We don’t have formal managers for every staff member, everyone just gets their work done
  • We don’t have, like, HR HR, but our recruiter/office manager/only female employee is super good if you want someone to talk to
  • We don’t do performance improvement plans for employees that are struggling. We just have a super honest conversation about how they aren’t a good fit and fire them
  • We would have some hard explaining to do if our salary list accidentally became public

I’ll give you your first point for free. I’ll give you second one because it’s hard to run a business and there’s always something you wish you could get to but haven’t yet. I understand that. And, if you’re on the bubble, I’ll give you one more if there’s a thing on this list you are trying to change.

So how’d your company do? Fewer than 3 points? I’m happy for you and your colleagues. 4? 5? More?

What a Waste

I’ve talked to people who score 7s and 8s. Sometimes they’re proud of it.

What I’ve learned is that a high score on that silly little quiz tells me two not-silly things about you: you’re wasting time and you’re wasting your investors’ money. And what’s extra sad is that you thought you were doing the opposite.

You thought you were saving time by cutting needless process and especially needless meetings. Ugh, meetings, right? But a lot of these practices will increase turnover and lower productivity.

You know what costs a lot of time? When good people quit. You lose accumulated knowledge, you take a significant velocity hit, and you often have knock-on morale drag on the staff that stay. 1:1s take time, but they let people get things off their chest. They also feed motivation and team identity. Defined levels and career paths take work to develop. But they’re a straightforward way to give people mastery goals and direction. A well designed PIP takes longer than summary dismissal, but it can turn a struggling employee around and lift an entire team’s output.

Some of these policies do seem to save money. As the commenters point out, unlimited vacation can be a useful way to avoid paying out accrued timewhen employees leave. And not hiring an HR person does save you their salary.

But a core value of good management is that your investment in your employees pays off as they grow in scope and impact. Well managed employees make your company better. They mentor new people, take on new skills, and take personal ownership in the quality of their team’s work.

Ever look at some company getting it right and think, “How did they hire all those amazing people?” I’ll tell you how. They grew them. And they retained them. And that attracted more great people. People talk, and that flows both ways. Skimping on your people is a foolish (and gross) way to save money.

Don’t Take My Word For It

I try to manage well and thoughtfully, but there is certainly no shortage of disagreement out there on the right way to run things.

Valve software’s culture doc is near-biblical for many folks, yet it garners a pretty high score on my test. They make more money than I do, and better games, too; maybe they’re right? I don’t know. Former valve folk are not gentle with their description of a culture that “felt like high school” with implicit favour-based power structures operating behind the scenes. I don’t want to work in that kind of place. Maybe you do?

Remember when GitHub was so proud of how they didn’t really bother with traditional management? Somehow, even with their unlimited PTO, it didn’t go well.

I hear they’re hiring more managers now, and I’m hopeful for them. My hope is not that they feel beaten and subjugated and pay their manager tax. My hope is that they realize how harmful their hubris is to the employees that helped them build such a central piece of the technology landscape.

An Extremely Boring Manifesto

Look, management may be hard, but this test is pretty easy to pass. And it proceeds from the first rule of startup club:

The First Rule of Startup Club: if you’re not planning to be the best in the world at something other people already do well, then don’t mess around with implementing your own version of it, use theirs.

We usually cite this in reference to databases, or unit test harnesses, or snack providers. But it’s just as true here.

I don’t need you to be the best in the world at management. But if you’re not planning to be, if you’re not going to be really studious and dedicated to it, then for god’s sake stop messing with it. I promise you can’t build a better management system in your spare time.

  • Set up every employee with a clear direct manager, and expect them to hold regular 1:1s. Discuss their current work, but also their goals and development.
  • Be clear about every role or, if you can’t manage that, at least every role with multiple people in it. Define the expectations of the role, and where it’s headed. Employees should know which level/role they’re in.
  • Set salaries according to role and calibrate against your market (your HR person can help here).
  • Have a basic process for sourcing and interviews. Eliminate bias where you can. Interview for well defined roles so that you know what your salary range is, and don’t get anchored off of savvy candidates manipulating the offer phase.
  • Give people benefits and vacation that make them feel loved and help them be excellent, without exploding your burn rate. Make sure they take that vacation.

It’s stupefying to me but if you do those things you’ll be head and shoulders above many of your peers in industry. You’ll be able to attract and retain talent better. Your employees will grow and take on broader leadership roles. Word will get around that your company is run by grown ups.

What’s even more amazing to me is this: most people won’t. Most people will still try to shortcut things, and then wonder aloud why they can’t find great people. They’ll conclude that they need to pay higher salaries because their people keep fleeing. They’ll miss targets, they’ll fail, and they’ll explain that startup is just super hard and maybe they were just too early. ?

Like most manifestos, this one’s easier to read than it is to live. I understand that business is full of conflicting tensions and priorities. But if you can’t do these things, these table stakes things, then I need you to seriously consider the possibility that running an organization is not for you. Find a cofounder who understands this stuff. Hire and empower leaders to operate while you stick to the ideas and get out of their way. Something. These are people’s lives you’re dealing with. If I sound irate, that’s why.

And to those of you out there who do understand this, who operate for a living and do it well: I see you. You are heroes who don’t get enough credit. And if you’re ever in Toronto, your first drink is on me.


About the Author
This article was written by Jonathan Nightingale of the co-pour a blog dedicated to leadership lessons and business insights. Jonathan is the Editor of https://mfbt.ca.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

Published

on

(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

Published

on

Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Trending