Managers are an important part of any company, interesting experiments to the contrary. Technology companies move fast and need to have people specialized in the various activities to maximize their forward progress and just get things done.
To achieve this, you need people to organize things, events, and people – you need managers. Managers are a double-edged sword, however; they can act as a force multiplier to free up your productive people to be productive and create value for your company, or they can drag them down into a morass of politics and back-stabbing.
On the plus side, a good manager can dramatically improve the output of his or her people. I have worked in many companies with adequate managers (neither bad nor good, but adequate) but my first job spoiled me for managers later. He was fantastic.
I started in the biotech world as a biochemist. My manager was an ex-professor who took an active interest in what I was doing, what I learning, and how I came to my conclusions and results. In retrospect, I believe that he was treating me more like one of his previous graduate students than an employee, but it caused me to rapidly gain skills and make contributions to the company. He also did this for several other new hires. As a result, within a year, all of us junior employees with Bachelors degrees or diplomas were doing experiments at the Ph.D. level, including statistical analysis and experiment design. This gave the company effectively 4 intermediate/senior research personnel for the cost of 4 juniors – a great bargain. It also invested us in the company and made us excited to go to work doing fairly difficult and tedious things … at least up until he lost a political battle and was fired.
I will always be thankful to this man – plus, he was the only manager I have had that has been taller than me 🙂
The Bad … And the Ugly
At the down side of the equation, bad management can have disproportionate negative impact on your company as well. On a personal note, in my most recent traditional position, I had a bad manager. I mean, this guy was terrible; he yelled at his subordinates, exploded without warning on me and my peers, and pretty much possessed no social qualities at all. He caused the following people to leave
- one of the key product managers
- the QA manager
- two developers (to date – more want to leave)
- my replacement!
Think about that for a second – one person caused at least six professionals to leave their position and the company. This was a startup so the impact on the ramp-up and HR costs was … not minimal. He is still in his position there but the company has had to back off from their big value, big payoff targets, the one that excited all of us joining the company, and they are now a reasonably stable services company. Yes, they are successful from a ‘staying in business’ perspective but they are an abject failure from a ‘change the industry and make a difference’ perspective.
The correct thing to do would have been to turf this manager quite some time ago, regardless of his effectiveness. Unless he can do the work of seven people well (himself plus the six others), he is an overall detriment to the company. In fact, the overall morale of the company was driven down by his actions, causing an even steeper loss.
Do not fool yourself when you look at high performers – if they cost the company too much, you are better off firing them and getting someone else. Any assessment of their positive productivity must be balanced by the negative effects of their actions on other people. My previous manager is a prime example – he is responsible for changing the company from a living, vibrant startup to a commodity services company. Someone like him may be preventing your company from making the next leap – don’t let that happen!
What sort of managers do you have at your companies? Do you have actively engaged management that tries to help, to act as an umbrella to their people, and to make lives better for everyone? Or do you have managers that would (and should) be called bullies in other settings? Let us know in the comments.
Images courtesy of Sinistra Ecologia LibertÃ / flickr.com