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Will you BURN the next manager you hire?

It seems to be a rule, not an exception. Many senior managers and early entrepreneurs create their own mess with this one. The first professional senior manager that an entrepreneur hires to share the growing workload does not last more than a year.   You as a longer-term senior manager may make the same mistake and suffer the same result.

What is the common problem?

Entrepreneurs start businesses with a strong vision of what and how, involved in every process from buying supplies to hiring and directly supervising early employees.  The culture of the company is built day by day by those actions, often centering on the founder’s vision and management style with little room for deviation.  Some longer-term managers remain in that habit until needing to hire an immediate subordinate.

Why is this so often a problem?

At some point, as the company grows, either the founder’s span of control is stretched to the limit, or investors enter the picture, often with a clear idea of how they would like to scale the company to grow quickly.  This happens predictably, either voluntarily in the case of the founder deciding that s/he needs help at or near the top, or involuntarily when investors insist upon the addition of professional leadership.  You may have been managing for years and need to hire that direct report to lessen your workload, setting up the same result.

The predictable result…

If this new managerial hire is the first for you or for a founder or founding partners, and if the person is expected to relieve some portion of the workload, there is a predictable and great risk that the first person hired to do so will last only a short time at the company.

…which unfortunately is a general rule. 

[Email readers, continue here…]   I’ve seen this happen so many times, it is almost a rule for me.  I warn the executive or entrepreneur to be careful in the interview process, to expose the candidate to people at all levels of the company for buy-in, to be sure that there is a culture fit.  But most important of all, I warn them that they must be ready and able to let go, to delegate clearly, and to establish metrics for measuring the performance of the newly hired manager – but not to interfere with that person’s day to day management unless absolutely necessary.  I urge them to coach, but not to expect the new manager to be a duplicate in style or perceived ability.

Then it happens.

It is an unhappy but common occurrence: the recently hired and trained professional manager is let go, and a new search started.  Luckily, in my experience, the second person hired for the job often is much more successful – usually not because the person is better at the job, but because the hiring executive or entrepreneur is more willing to delegate, expecting less a duplication of self.

Could you be guilty?

If this is so common, is it not possible to be aware of the probability, and condition yourself to be more tolerant of someone else’s different style of leadership?  It might be a learning opportunity for the executive or entrepreneur often coming from one more experienced in the position and in growing company leadership.

  • Harley Kaufman

    Hi Dave
    This is a great corollary to my great learned lesson (from unhappy personal experience):


    Always enjoy reading your great insights.

  • So, so true. In my fractional CFO business we often take on clients that have never had a CFO but have finally accepted the urging of others that they need one. The first one will invariably have collaboration conflicts (like that term?) with their new boss, and they seldom last. As you noted, the second one does better, and usually for exactly the reasons you stated.

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