How to be a Manager

Greg Skloot by

When I graduated college, I felt the insatiable pull to join a startup. I became Chief Operating Officer at a bootstrapped tech startup in Boston and stepped into the role with the overconfidence that only a naive recent-grad could have. Not surprisingly, everything I tried to do to build our business was much harder than I could have possibly imagined. I found myself bombarded with internal questions such as:

  • How do we build a qualified sales pipeline?
  • What do we do when a customer is upset?
  • How do we make sure to pay the right amount of taxes?

While these questions kept me up at night, perhaps the most difficult question that I faced was: how do we build a great team and manage people effectively?

I’m not unique: most founders or newly promoted managers have no formal management training and instead are learning by trial and error. Needless to say, such on-the-go learning can create a stressful environment for the manager and the rest of the team.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve had the privilege of managing countless teams, hundreds of people and navigated the painful process of trial and error. I wish I had better understood some of the fundamentals earlier. To help, I recently published How to be a Manager, a step-by-step guide for new leaders to learn how to effectively manage a team of people. Here are the major takeaways:

Start with a formula

Management is both an art and a science. While every situation with people is different, there are a few universal ingredients that go into building a great team. I call this the “Formula” and it’s made up of 5 components:

  • Culture
  • People
  • Rhythm
  • Objectives
  • Process

Each of these components work together to keep a team organized, productive and high performing. Let’s dive briefly into each one:

1. Culture 

Building a great team starts with culture. Think of culture as the skills and behaviors that are valued at your company. Before you can hire the right people or put processes in place to make them effective, you need the right foundation, which is rooted in culture. Tactically, that means writing down your mission, values and customs and being intentional about living them with your team. Getting these things defined early makes your life much easier later in determining the right people to recruit and reward on your team.

2. People

With defined cultural values, you can now go out and find the right people to join the team. Good managers put in the effort to plan precisely what mix of skills are needed to create a balanced team, define clear roles and responsibilities and identify paths for each person to progress and grow in their role.

3. Rhythm

In the early days, teams can feel disorganized when jumping between many priorities and lacking clear timelines. To make everything smoother, consider the concept of rhythm: thinking in terms of weeks, months, quarters and years. Instead of a massive to-do list with unclear due dates, rhythm helps you work on specific objectives and tasks during each time period. You’ll be amazed at how focused and organized your team can be once this simple concept is in place.

4. Objectives

Now that you are thinking in terms of repeatable time periods (i.e. rhythm), you can break up your giant to-do list into more manageable chunks to be addressed each period. Break the to-do list into 3 categories:

Annual Objectives

Each team might have 10 big picture objectives to accomplish annually, like raising a round of funding or launching a major new product.

Quarterly Objectives

The big annual objectives are broken down into more manageable projects that can be accomplished each quarter, like launching the first marketing campaign for the new product.

Weekly and Monthly Tasks

Finally, quarterly objectives can be broken into weekly and monthly tasks, like designing the graphics that will be used in the Q2 marketing campaign.

With this structure in place, each team member can clearly understand their responsibilities and be held accountable for delivering on their tasks and objectives.

5. Process

The last component of the formula is process. This ingredient gives you the tactical tools to implement the other 4 pieces, from building a great culture to defining effective objectives. I’ve found that the most important processes include:

  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Feedback
  • Analysis

Within each of these there are several important processes that you team can adopt and make your own, from weekly meetings to quarterly planning summits.

While this article is high level, get the full story with plenty of examples and templates by reading the guide, How to be a Manager.

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