Hiring Our First Manager
We started looking for our first manager late 2022 and I'm excited to share that we finally filled the position. She will be starting on June 1 and brings a ton of experience working across different types of organizations. In this role she will not have any direct reports, but act as a link between our clients, project teams and sales function.
I've done a fair bit of reflecting over the past months on how we messed up by not hiring our first manager sooner. Read on if you don't want to make the same mistake..
For context, we're currently a team of 11, including 3 partners working in the business. We've been building this team for the past 6 years. During this time we never hired for a dedicated management role. As a professional service firm we employ a lot of smart people, able to do a lot of self-management. Project management has always been a responsibility shared across team members, fitting their seniority and project complexity.
Looking back, not hiring our first manager has been our biggest impediment for growth. I'm not talking about growth in terms of dollars, but the actual important stuff: staying relevant as a business, be a great place to work and providing a great experience to our clients (in that order). We failed to acknowledge that:
We Are Best at What We Love to Do.
Our team is perfectly capable to project manage themselves. That does not mean that they should. Highly skilled individual contributors generally enjoy honing their craft and "making stuff", rather than spending a large chunk of their time on auxiliary activities. Surprising, eh?
Moving Slow is Death By 1000 Cuts.
Some of us are born as visionary entrepreneurs. I'm not one of them. Historically I've believed that "moving slow and steady" is they way to build something that endures. There’s some truth in this adage, but it's certainly not when the business is transitioning from one phase to another to support its ambitions. Between these phases the business is vulnerable and the transition puts strain on practically everything, so you want to be spending as little time in this state as possible. We need managers to complete our transition to a next phase and find stasis again.
(Reading tip: "No Man's Land: Where Growing Companies Fail" by Doug Tatum, via Alan Pentz)
Incompatible Expectations Never Work.
We failed to see how asking our team to wear two hats at the same time muddied the water. We want them to ensure our clients are happy while at the same time deliver work within a given set of parameters. These two are at odds more often than not.
I'm proud – and this is a true testament to the quality of our team – that they've always did right for the client. Yet it is unfair to uphold the team to two objectives that can seem incompatible most of the time. Separating these responsibilities will allow us to chase higher standards.
High-Leverage Work Requires Space.
While I'm okay at keeping a lot of balls in the air, the mental load of doing so means that less urgent (but often more important) tasks fall by the wayside, are not completely within timely fashion or simply lack the breadth or quality.
My biggest personal frustration over the past few years is the excuse of "not having the mental bandwidth right now". We've never had a dedicate manager, so we've never be able to fully delegate this function. Knowing that someone is handling this type of work will bring me lots of headspace.
Hiring our first manager will be a "quality of life" upgrade for our entire team AND our clients. At the same time I'm very cognizant that it will be an impactful chance for everyone involved. I'm sure that I'll muttering "Why didn't we hire for this role earlier?" over the summer and we're planning to start looking for another manager somewhere in Q3/Q4.