How Founders Can Be Good Managers | Tory Burch Foundation

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How Founders Can Be Good Managers

Advice for managing and developing your first employees.

It’s easy to get things done and handle personalities when you’re the only person working at your company. But as soon as you add employees to your growing business, you have to be both a founder and a manager. “I feel like, for many of us, the work itself, it might be challenging, but it’s not nearly as challenging as actually managing the people that you work with,” explained Grow with Google trainer Stasia Kudrez. She joined our webinar series to talk about being both a manager and a coach to help your business succeed (and help you avoid founder’s syndrome).

What makes a good manager?

Even the most talented, productive teams need strong managers. In fact, good management is a key part of retaining talent. Managers have to foster an inclusive and collaborative environment. Consider the needs of all your team members and model respect in your interactions. How do you welcome diverse experiences, skills and experiences? 

Consider the needs of all your team members and model respect in your interactions.

Managers should also have a clear vision and strategy for their teams. “And better than that, try not to make it just to your vision. Try to involve your team in the creation of that vision,” said Kudrez. Once you’ve created your strategy, clearly communicate it and expected results. Employees need to know their roles and the expected results; otherwise, they won’t know how to perform.  

In addition to setting benchmarks for your team member’s performance, you should also take the time to get to know their aspirations so you can support their career development. What do they want to do in a year, two years, five years? “Find ways to connect that to the job that they’re in ” at your company, advised Kudrez. “You’ll be able to help them grow and thrive in that workspace.”

While a manager should include their team in creating a vision, they should also be strong decision makers on their own. 

A good manager also avoids micromanaging. You may find that, as a founder, you want to be involved in every detail of your business, but micromanaging will hurt the company in the long run. You don’t want employees to believe you don’t trust them to do their jobs. At the same time, team members may be tempted to go straight to the source when they have a question. Kudrez shared a tactic she uses when that happens. “I give them 20 minutes an hour. I will tell you, 90% of the time. they figure it out. And that empowers them,” she explained. “It [gives] them the chance to be like, ‘Ah, man, Stasia is just not responding. I need to figure out how to do this.’ And it totally works.”

Good managers are also good coaches.  

Managers focus on what an employee is currently doing; coaches help those employees learn to learn new things. Put another way, “It’s about developing, fostering and nurturing their ideas and their development rather than imparting your own experience and knowledge.” To do this, it’s important to make development a regularly scheduled practice, not something that comes up only when there’s a problem or it’s time for an annual review. 

Ask the right questions.

Good coaching begins with asking the following three questions:

  • What’s happening? This establishes the current state.
  • What’s most important? This establishes the future state.
  • How do we get there? This helps identify the necessary steps.

In general, avoid yes or no questions to foster discussion. Questions that start with who, when and where are great ones for gathering key information for completing a task. “What” and “how” questions require someone to explain their thought process.

Be careful asking “why” questions. Those tend to put people on the defensive and make additional communication difficult. 

Listen carefully to the answers.

Careful listening is maybe one of the most important skills in coaching. Practice whole body listening, which accounts for both the facts of what someone says as well as the empathy you need to really understand their position. “It’s about suspending your own agenda, your own judgment, and just focusing on that person at hand.”

A good manager also avoids micromanaging.

Take a structured approach to feedback. 

It can be hard to give a team member feedback, especially when you’re asking them to correct something, using developmental feedback. A simple formula can help:

  • Situation: describe the situation
  • Behavior: what they did
  • Impact: the effect of their behavior, followed by a discussion about clarification, options and next steps.

Consider adding in how their behavior affects something they care about, like broader business goals. 

In practice, developmental feedback can be delivered as: 

When the store got busy during rush hour (situation), you didn’t perform or delegate our important cleaning protocol (behavior). This put our customers and staff at risk (impact).

Feedback can be perceived as negative or scolding. However, Kudrez urged our community to reframe their understanding and think about all feedback as positive. “Even if you’re talking about a negative situation, it shows that you, as a manager, care about their success. You’re meeting with them, because you want to give them the tools, the information [and] the feedback that will help them succeed in the role that they’re in.”

Again, giving feedback consistently as part of regular coaching helps change that negative association. Team members have the opportunity to develop good habits early on, and manager-coaches have the chance to practice giving feedback. Remember, balance is key. Kudrez and other experts recommended sharing five pieces of motivational, or positive, pieces of feedback for every one developmental piece. 

“The most important thing is to be consistent, timely, and to give actionable feedback on a consistent basis,” said Kudrez. If someone does something great, don’t wait to tell them! And if there’s something they should correct, you don’t want to wait, either. However, if you find yourself frustrated or angry, wait until things aren’t so charged before speaking with your team member. 

Entrepreneurs have so many things to think about, and coaching is one they can’t afford to overlook. “It’s huge for you as a founder or manager, because eventually, if you’re a good coach, it’s going to free up your time, it will empower your team, and it will essentially uplevel your entire company,” said Kudrez.