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Scaling Your Business? Remember to Think About Your Managers

Jul 12, 2022 | Training

By Drew Bonder, Head of Sales & Partnerships

How does being a part of a scaling business affect the modern manager? Let’s start with a real-life example from one of our clients.

Debbie’s company is pursuing rapid growth, and it’s an exciting time for them as they’re scaling up. She is a key team member and has added tremendous value as an individual contributor and manager.

Debbie loves the managing aspects of her job and wishes she could focus on becoming the best manager she can be for her team. But, her company still asks her to spend a lot of her time getting very hands-on with key projects, given her expertise. In other words, she’s not able to just manage because she’s too valuable as an individual contributor. She’s been as good of a manager as her time allows, but she feels she’s never had the bandwidth to reach her full potential. Debbie wishes she had more time to focus and be more dialed into her team.

Unfortunately, we’ve heard stories like Debbie’s hundreds of times, and it seems typical for businesses that are scaling. There’s often an expectation of accomplishing as much as humanly possible with the least number of employees possible.

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen firsthand what tends to happen next, and it is one of three things:

  1. Debbie continues to be a great individual contributor but doesn’t have enough time to manage effectively.
  2. Debbie manages very well but becomes less effective as an individual contributor, and projects suffer.
  3.  Or the most common result – Burnout: Debbie becomes spread so thin that she’s not nearly as effective as she could be as a manager or individual contributor.

So, how does a scaling company navigate this dilemma? Do they take Debbie’s hands-on responsibilities completely off her plate, or do they keep her as a “producer” on projects in addition to managing? Keep reading for the solution.

How to help managers succeed while scaling

In our experience, the best solution is to give Debbie the time she needs to manage effectively by taking some hands-on responsibilities off her plate. Easier said than done, right?

Managers are usually tasked with tackling hands-on responsibilities as needed. Still, the reality is that they’re often “needed” quite a bit by their employees, especially newer employees still in the onboarding process.

We’re not suggesting that being hands-on is a negative thing. In fact, letting managers get their hands dirty at times can give them a better perspective and appreciation of the challenges and realities their employees continually face. However, when managers at growth-stage companies have to get involved with hands-on tasks constantly, they’re not truly afforded the opportunity to be managers. They won’t have time to meet with their employees regularly, have the capacity to mentor and guide their teams regularly, or effectively manage the behaviors and responsibilities of their reports. Results typically suffer.

That’s NOT good for anyone. With talent at a premium in the current market, this situation creates a retention risk that most companies can’t afford. Your managers are effectively demoted to team leads at that point since they’re not truly managing anyone—which means that their team doesn’t really have a manager at all.

The irony here is that for many companies, the reasoning behind this scenario is to save money. But, when you dig into it, the cost savings of overloading your managers to avoid spending on hiring more “doers” is pennies compared to the lower productivity, engagement, and satisfaction that results from unmanaged employees.

Who is responsible for helping managers?

Let’s go back to our story about Debbie the manager. Who’s responsible for fixing the situation and getting Debbie back to managing?

You may have guessed it: her manager! The irony is not lost on us, but it’s the truth: Debbie’s manager, be it a Director, VP, or COO, is responsible for managing this resource issue and creating an environment where Debbie can do her job effectively.

Now that we know who should step in, what’s the solution? First, the circumstances at hand reveal that Debbie’s manager could use some additional skills. Debbie felt that she did not want to stand out as a complainer suggests that the company culture does not empower open communication.

In a perfect world, Debbie’s manager would be open to hearing why Debbie is struggling and have the tools they need to help her succeed. Whether they have to handle an immense workload or not, leaders need to grow their skills and knowledge to effectively lead their team—especially as a company is scaling up. And that kind of learning doesn’t just come with the job.

If Debbie’s story sounds too familiar for comfort, don’t worry. There’s a way out. The lack of resources Debbie is experiencing can be fixed (and even prevented,) and by doing so, it’s also a way to future-proof the business.

How? People in managing roles—at any level in an organization—can enhance their core management skills through training, and in-turn, understand and avoid situations like overworked employees and a lack of resources.

The process is empowering, and leaders can gain this knowledge by taking personalized assessments, introspection, and working with instructors with real-world experience.

It all comes down to this when scaling: For managers of managers, there are several vital things to have in place that will make transition and change happen with more ease and flow.

Sticky note that says thank you in handwriting

3 key things leaders need to know—and how they can get it through training

1. Leaders need to develop an environment where their team members feel psychologically safe to have tough conversations—knowing the signs of a team that has this vs. a team that does not is a critical step toward building and developing a successful team.

2. Leaders need to create and integrate a comprehensive change management plan. This plan clearly articulates organizational strategies that help employees understand ‘why’ the change is critical and empower them to be a part of the decision process around what the future state will look and feel like.

3. Leaders who continually build their bench will know who to turn to when tasks need to be delegated and when new work is created. A deep knowledge of talent and a clear path for employees to be promoted is a win-win for all involved.

Here’s the good news: you aren’t alone if you don’t know how to do these things. We offer training to our clients on this exact list.

Leadership Lab

Our team members have experienced great leadership programs and training firsthand, which inspired us to create our own. With a small class size, access to exclusive assessments, and instructors with real-world experience, we designed Leadership Lab: Corner Office to be an impactful and highly personalized training.

Participants dig deep into personal values, shifting mindsets, and organizational culture. They learn how to build their bench, develop teams, create change management plans, and more, all with the mission to support their long-term business planning and vision.

The next session of Leadership Lab: Corner Office begins on August 24, 2022. We’d love to see you and your team members there!

At Turning the Corner, we believe that meaningful work that we enjoy is one of life’s greatest rewards—it’s why we do what we do! Our mission is to end suffering in the workplace and empower businesses to thrive through various HR services and training opportunities.