How to be a manager
The step-by-step guide for leading a new team. by Greg Skloot
People. The hardest part of building a business.
You can figure out how to build a product, open a location or get the first customer.
When it’s time to grow the team, things start getting tricky. This guide will help you go from doing everything yourself to leading a team and being a good manager.
If you're a founder or CEO responsible for building the structure of your organization, use this guide as a template and customize it for your business.
If you're a new manager of a department, use this guide to better understand how company management should work and where your team fits in. Pay attention to the Objectives, and Process sections as they will help you effectively lead your own team.
If you're an achiever, you may find yourself rewarded with a team of people to lead. It could be because you started a business or got promoted.
Here is what the typical journey looks like:
- You build a new product, open a business or get promoted to leadership.
- You're now responsible not just for yourself, but for a team of people.
- Oh crap, this is harder than you thought...
Have no fear, you got this! Whether you are building software, opening a restaurant or selling real estate, this journey is similar.
To help visualize the journey, we will use a handy diagram called the Formula. It contains 5 ingredients that you need to be a great manager and leader.
In the Formula, we’ll start at the top and work our way down. Each ingredient is key to making the others work effectively. In the next section, we'll dig into the first ingredient in the Formula, Culture.
Imagine you have an imaginary example business called Crazy Cookies, and you offer a cookie delivery subscription service. Your customers can pay a monthly fee and have fresh, delicious cookies delivered to their offices. I know… it’s genius!
Suppose you’re ready to hire your first employee to make deliveries. You’ve narrowed it down to two potential people:
Beth is a hard worker and organized but rough around customers. She can be dismissive and uninterested.
Tom beams positivity and makes everyone laugh. However, he is often late to meetings and not prepared.
How do you decide who to hire? Both Beth and Tom have a mixture of good and bad qualities, so you need to determine which are most important to Crazy Cookies.
The qualities that are most important to your business are your values. Values are a key component of Culture, the first ingredient in the Manager Formula.
Culture is the behaviors and skills that are valued on your team. It includes 5 parts:
In order to make your team successful, you need to be intentional about culture. That means defining each of the 5 parts, writing them down and sharing them with everyone. Once your culture is on paper, it's easier to choose who to hire because you can simply check “Does this person share our values? Do they appreciate our story?”
You may be tempted to think “culture and values are too fluffy… let’s get serious!” While these concepts may seem soft right now, getting them right early will help you determine the right people to recruit, reward and retain for your team.
When you build something new, you likely have a few reasons “why” in your head. It might be to solve a problem you’ve experienced or make a hard thing easier for your customers. You likely daydream about how your business could grow and succeed by solving this problem.
You are daydreaming about your Vision. The Vision is a statement that explains the purpose for why your team exists. Once that purpose is understood, it can guide your team to make effective decisions and hire the right people. For Crazy Cookies, your vision might be:
“To bring joy to office workers through fresh baked treats”
Having a defined vision will help you later to set the right goals and understand if you're making progress towards success.
Every company has a unique set of values. These are the traits and behaviors that people in the company live by. They are the beating heart of the company’s culture.
In the early days, values come from the leaders. Consider the qualities and personality traits you respect most. For Crazy Cookies, you might use these:
- Curiosity: We try new recipes to improve our cookies.
- Energy: We are excited when we bake and deliver.
- Excellence: We are proud to put our name on our cookies.
- Dedication: We wake up early to bake fresh cookies.
These 4 words each have a clear definition that explains what the value means to you. Some of these are broad, while others can be very specific. Here’s another example:
Example: Grant George, CTO at Set the Set
Set the Set is a software company that lets music fans request their favorite songs for upcoming concerts. One of their values is “Fans First,” which means that in every decision, they consider “is the choice we are making best for fans?”
By creating values, you can use them to help with the 3 R’s: recruit, reward and release.
- Recruit: Hire people that share your values.
- Reward: Promote people who exemplify your values.
- Release: Let go of people who don’t align with your values.
Defining your values gives you clarity. It’s easy to understand who belongs on the team, who should be promoted and who shouldn’t be there because you have a guiding light from your values.
Your values come to life in your customs. These are the specific ways people in your company behave to align with your values. For example, if one of your values is “Dedication: waking up early to bake fresh cookies daily,” you might be frustrated with a baker who can’t drag himself out of bed until 10am. If the custom is that everyone at the bakery comes in early, then that is the behavior new people need to adopt.
Customs happen whether you intentionally define them or not. Consider what customs you value and write them down. Some examples could include:
- We communicate best in person or over the phone, not by text message
- We are blunt when sharing feedback, and everyone uses constructive criticism
- We leave at 3pm to attend kids’ sports games as long as we get our work done
Entire companies and small teams all have unique customs. It often causes tension when someone doesn't follow the team's customs, which is why it's so important to intentionally define them.
Every organization has a unique story and history. When it’s just you, the story is simple because you are the main character. The early history may motivate you to continue to grow the company, and remind you of how it all started. The story often influences future behavior because of past experiences.
When you hire new people, they don’t know the story. You need to share context of what’s happened in the past so new team members can benefit from lessons learned. In order to do that, you need to document your story so it can be passed down to new people. Here are the steps to document your story:
- Write a list of milestones for your company, such as getting the first customer
- For each item on the list, think back to what it felt like and describe the story
- Include details like who was there, what was said and how you felt at the time
- Put all of the milestone stories together in a timeline
Once this document is created, make it a well designed PDF and share it with every new hire or job candidate you are considering for the team.
Where the business is located and where people work has a big impact on culture. Early on, you need to make some important decisions:
- Do you want everyone to come to an office every day?
- Do you want to hire people in different locations to work remotely?
- Will the work day be defined as 9-5, or more flexible?
For some businesses, like a retail store that needs staff present to serve customers, the options will be more limited. If there is flexibility, different people will prefer unique variations of these options. Some can only work well in a quiet environment like a home office, while others thrive in a loud open bullpen of desks.
Example: John Ford, CEO at eGym North America
eGym is a global company based in Germany. When opening a U.S. office, the initial idea was NYC for easy travel to Europe. Instead, eGym chose Boulder, CO because it shares their value of an energetic outdoors environment.
Now that you defined your culture with specific values and customs, you can hire the right people for your team. In order to get the right people in place to build a great team, consider 4 important factors:
Let’s start with what skills you currently have on the team.
Some people might be incredible salesmen, while others can bake cookies or build a computer with their eyes closed (that would be super impressive!) To determine what roles to hire for, first consider what skills you currently have on the team, and then outline what skills are needed to grow. To start, answer these questions:
- What are you better at than most people?
- What are you worse at than most people?
- What is something you’d love to learn more about?
- What is something you hate doing and have no interest in learning about?
The answers to these questions can identify what skills you have in-house, and who you need to fill in the gaps. For Crazy Cookies, if the founding team members are all great at baking, you likely don’t need to hire more bakers. However, if you don’t know the first thing about how to get cookies from the bakery into customer’s offices, hiring someone with sales and marketing experience would be a great step.
In the very early days, it’s often just a few people doing everything. When you reach the point of needing a team, you'll split the responsibilities into functions and assign them to each of your team members. There are 4 universal functions in every organization:
- Acquisition: Sales, Marketing, Biz Dev
- Development: Product, Engineering, Service
- Delivery: Customer Success, Support
- Operations: Finance, HR, IT, Recruiting
These functions might have different names in your organization, or if you're running a functional team (e.g. Marketing team), you might have different sub-functions, like design and content writing. Regardless, the core concept is universal.
You need one person responsible for each function. In the early days, you may have generalists that are versatile enough to handle multiple functions. As you grow, you’ll ultimately need someone that has deep experience in each function to be the leader.
As the company grows, each function may have multiple roles, such as a separate leader for sales and marketing within the Acquisition function. In the case of Tom and Beth, the potential employees for Crazy Cookies we discussed earlier, we’d be hiring them for the Delivery function since they are getting the product to customers.
Example: Junae Barnhart, VP Customer Success at FitnessBI
Junae is a leader at a technology startup. Her role is overseeing all of Delivery (Customer Success and Support). Because it’s an early stage company, she also helps acquire new customers and advises Development on what to build.
The functions outlined above may feel broad. If you hire Tom or Beth for the Delivery function, you need to define specific responsibilities that they are accountable for. If you have multiple Delivery employees, how do you ensure that they don’t step on each other’s toes? Let's introduce a few tools for you to use:
The Function Chart is a diagram that shows each functional area of the organization and who is responsible for it. The chart includes important details like who each person reports to and what their core responsibilities are. This differs from a traditional org chart because the focus is on the functional areas rather than individual job titles. This ensures that there is a person clearly responsible for each core area of the business. Here is an example for Crazy Cookies:
Operations / Greg CEO Reports To: N/A
- Hire/manage leadership
- Handle the investors
- Be face of company to customers and industry
Acquisition / Brian VP Sales Reports To: Greg
- Acquire new customers
- Hire/manage sales team
- Share accurate metrics to help forecast growth
Development / Samantha VP Product Reports To: Greg
- Hire/manage bakers
- Create recipes
- Determine equipment needed to bake cookies
Creating this chart eliminates the stress of an early employee wondering “who is my boss?” or “what am I supposed to do here?” Make sure your chart is available for everyone on the team to see.
Free Template: Function Chart
Use this template to define who in your organization is responsible for Acquisition, Development, Delivery and Operations. If you're running a sub-function, like Marketing, simply change the names!
An Individual Roadmap is a document that outlines each person’s responsibilities, strengths, weaknesses, and the metrics used to measure success. A typical Individual Roadmap will have the following sections:
- Primary Responsibilities: what are the most important things to work on?
- Secondary Focuses: if I have extra time, where should I help?
- Skills to Develop: what should I learn?
- Strengths: what am I the best at?
- Progression: how can I get promoted to bigger roles?
Creating this simple document ensures that there is no ambiguity about someone’s role. By reading it, that person understands exactly what she is responsible for and how she can grow.
Free Template: Individual Roadmap
Use this template to create a personalized document for each member of your team. Be sure to review it regularly and update it together.
People are not stagnant; instead, they are constantly learning and evolving. The role and responsibilities that made sense for someone last year may no longer be a fit this year. To be the best manager, pay close attention to each team member’s personal growth. This can be done in a few ways:
- Provide frequent feedback and mentorship
- Give increasing amounts of responsibility
- Provide opportunities to take on leadership roles for specific projects
- Invest in learning opportunities, like books and conferences
Every team member grows differently. For example, some engineers want to become managers, while others may prefer to become expert individual contributors. By regularly communicating to understand their goals and progress, you can personalize a plan for each team member.
Let’s return to your example company, Crazy Cookies. Suppose in the very early days, you baked as many cookies as you could and tried hard to sell them. You had a long list of things to do to grow the company, but there was no clear timeline. Instead, it was “do as much as you can, as fast as possible.” That’s how most companies operate early on.
Building a team with this mentality leads to chaos. To avoid chaos, you need a balance between the extremes of:
- flexibility: Everyone can work on whatever they want. There are no deadlines, but we need everything done as quickly as possible.
- structure: Everyone can only work on very specific things. There are hard deadlines and no room for trying anything new.
It is stressful for people to come to work each day without the structure of a clear set of priorities, timeline and due dates. At the same time, you need flexibility to quickly try new ideas. The way to find balance is by introducing rhythm.
Rhythm means thinking in time periods of years, quarters, months and weeks.
Instead of a giant to-do list with unclear due dates, rhythm enables you to have specific tasks and goals for each week, quarter and even year. With these rhythmic time periods, you have flexibility to choose what to work on, and make changes in the next period. This is much easier to manage than endless to-do lists.
With an undertanding of the importance of rhythm, we can now move on to the next step in the Formula, defining objectives and measuring progress.
Example: Hans Oliver, Vice President, 10 Fitness
Hans runs a chain of 10 gyms. The end of the month is a crucial time to close new membership sales. It often takes several weeks for members to try the gym and decide to join. As a result, his rhythm is focused on months.
Now that you are thinking in terms of rhythmic weeks, months, quarters and years, you need to determine exactly what to do in each of those periods. At the end of the week, you often wonder “did I do a good job?” To measure what a “good job” is, you need specific objectives and tasks to do. These are broken down into 3 categories:
- Annual Objectives
- Quarterly Objectives
- Weekly & Monthly Tasks
Having defined objectives and tasks ensures that your team can focus and be accountable for their responsibilities. In fast moving teams, it’s okay for objectives to change as you go. Getting organized by writing them down is a great first step, and you can adjust when plans change.
Annual objectives are about the big picture. They help your team realize the vision defined in your culture. If you had to categorize everything your team will do this year, how would you do it? Suppose you put them into 3 categories that include:
- Raise $2M in funding to ensure an 18 month runway
- Grow to 500 customers ordering cookies every week
- Hire additional leadership so the founder isn’t doing everything
These big annual objectives are made up of many medium sized quarterly objectives and small tasks. For example, to accomplish the annual objective of growing to 500 customers, one of your quarterly objectives might be to launch a new website that better showcases your products. To do that, you’d have many tasks, such as writing the website text and designing the graphics.
The tasks can be done each week, the quarterly objectives may take a few months to accomplish and by the end of the year, you aim to achieve your annual objectives.
Since the annual objectives are overwhelming to accomplish all at once, they each need to be made up of medium-sized segments that can be addressed each quarter. For example, let’s consider the 3 annual objectives listed above and add several quarterly objectives to each:
|Raise $2M in Funding||Identify top investment firms and partners to reach out to. Meet with all of the investment firms identified. Solidify commitments and close round for at least $2M.|
|Grow to 500 customers||Launch a new website to better showcase cookie types. Hire 3 new sales people. Increase baking capacity by 2x to ensure delivery to 500 customers.|
|Hire additional leadership||Define role descriptions for VP Marketing, VP Sales and VP Product. Source candidates and engage with recruiters to make hires. Onboard each new leader so they are productive in their department|
Now you have 3 big annual objectives and 9 medium quarterly objectives. This simple list of 9 items could easily equal a year of positive productivity. Consider how organized you are with a summary of your entire year in 9 bullet points.
Weekly & Monthly Tasks
To accomplish each quarterly objective, there is a seemingly endless amount of tasks. A task can be as simple as a to-do item that takes 1 hour, such as "Update photos on the cookies page of the website.” Most team members’ daily focus is completing tasks. Your aim is for each team member to work on tasks that help accomplish quarterly objectives. If you can do that successfully, you'll be wildly productive.
Continuing the example of launching a new website, more detailed tasks include:
- Writing the text for the Flavors page
- Designing the banner image on the home page
- Selecting and purchasing a website domain name (e.g. crazycookies.com)
Each task is small, but added together they can quickly fill someone’s plate. Be sure each task has a due date assigned to it.
In order to keep a constant pulse on whether or not you are making progress, you need metrics. Your metrics are used to measure the success of each objective and task. Think of metrics as the “outputs” of your objectives and tasks.
Let’s outline the metrics for each of your objectives:
|Raise $2M in Funding||Amount of funding in your bank account|
|Grow to 500 customers||# of customers; Total revenue in $; Customer retention rate; Growth % month over month|
|Hire additional leadership||# of people added to leadership team; Retention of leaders; Performance of each leader’s function|
These metrics are all specific numbers, whether it be the number of people on the leadership team or the amount of dollars in a bank account. You can glance at that number and immediately know if you are on target or not. For your goal of launching a new website for Crazy Cookies, some metrics include:
- # of visitors to the website
- % of visitors that sign up to learn more about cookie delivery
- Whether or not your website appears in the first page of a Google search
To manage your team well, each person should have metrics aligned with their responsibilities, and share those metrics weekly. The metrics might be in a shared spreadsheet, written summary or Powerpoint slide. They need to be transparent so if a metric is showing a poor number, the team can work together to address it.
Example: Matt Voska, COO, Bannerman
Matt oversees a security company with 250+ employees. As COO, he is constantly switching between big quarterly objectives, like updating the payroll system, and weekly tasks, like coaching the sales team.
The final ingredient in the Formula is process. If you’ve been following along, you’ve now established a culture, identified the right people to hire with clear roles and responsibilities, created a rhythm and defined objectives and tasks to accomplish in specific time periods. Process ties it all together by helping you use these strategies with your team. To be a good manager, there are 4 important processes to implement:
Communication may be the most important word in this guide. It is the key to making your team operate effectively. Failure to communicate is the #1 cause of people problems. Communication ensures that a few critical things happen:
- Everyone is aligned on what the goals are
- Everyone is accountable for their responsibilities
- Everyone is transparent on the progress being made
Alignment, accountability and transparency are the building blocks of a successful team. They are must-haves to make everything else in this guide work.
Let’s outline how communication actually happens on a high performing team. There are typically 2 processes for formal communication:
- Written Updates
Meetings have a bad reputation. They are often long and result in promises that never get completed. They also favor the loudest people in the room, who may not have the best ideas. The key to making meetings better is differentiating update meetings from decision meetings:
- Update meetings: people communicate status of an objective or task
- Decision meetings: relevant people discuss an issue and come to a decision
Your goal is to avoid update meetings. At update meetings, everyone talks and no one listens. The updates discussed are often only relevant to a small part of the team. This makes it difficult to pay attention and commit to taking action during the meeting.
Updates should always be in writing, never in meetings. This will keep your team happier and save you a ton of time.
To avoid the dreaded update meetings and ensure your people are accountable, written updates are an important process. It involves each person writing a brief summary at the end of the week outlining 4 items:
- Progress: what did I accomplish this week?
- Plans: What tasks am I doing next week?
- Problems: what is blocking progress?
- Other: what else should the team know?
The best way to do this is to have everyone fill out a form sent to their email. When they fill out the form, their update is emailed to the group. A typical approach is everyone submitting their update by end of the weekend. This way, everyone starts out on the same page. Here is an example of a weekly update for Crazy Cookies:
Below is the Weekly Update for Brian, VP Sales:
- Closed 2 new customers with several cookie orders
- Hired 1 new sales rep that will start next week
- Visit 5 offices that expressed interest in ordering cookies
- Re-design our brochures to showcase new testimonials
- Communication with the baking department has been slow
- Customers are requesting more local cookie flavors… can we get them into the menu?
- What are next steps for the Leadership team retreat?
- I am traveling on Tuesday to the conference in San Diego
Written updates are tremendously impactful for keeping everyone transparent on progress being made and accountable for delivering on their responsibilities.
Tool: Weekly Update
I'm such a big believer in written updates that I built a tool to make them easy for my own team. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Now that status updates are being done in writing, there are a few meetings you should have that focus on discussion and decision making:
Your company’s leadership team should meet each week at the same time. This meeting includes a discussion about the following areas:
- Progress on achieving current quarterly objectives
- How the product is being received in the market
- How the most important customers are succeeding (or not) using the product
- How the team is performing and any people changes needed
- Financial position of the company and review of metrics
This meeting cannot devolve into status updates. Leaders need to remain focused and spent limited time together making decisions. The agenda should be created based on the concerns shared in the team’s written updates. Any important decisions should be noted in advance with an agenda so everyone has time to prepare thoughts.
All Hands Meeting
An All Hands meeting is just what it sounds like: getting all team members together.
All Hands should be once per week, typically for 30 minutes. During the meeting, each functional leader should outline a summary of the objectives being worked on for the next week. This meeting is mostly for getting everyone excited and having an opportunity to address the full team. Any important information shared in the meeting should also be sent in writing as a follow up.
Here is an example agenda for your All Hands meeting:
- Props (2 minutes): praise specific people for exceptional work that week
- Metrics (3 minutes): share metrics, such as customer growth
- Functions (20 minutes): each leader shares department summaries
- Strategy (5 minutes): CEO or COO shares strategy and the “why”
Keep your All Hands Meeting focused on objectives, not tasks. This is because tasks are too detailed and should instead be reserved for functional meetings.
Each functional group should have a weekly meeting. This is typically 30 minutes - 1 hour, and should be the same discussion and decision making format as the leadership meeting, avoiding status updates. You may review the previous week’s successes and share an outlook on the objectives and tasks for the current week. It is also an opportunity for individual teams (e.g. just the marketing team) to bond.
Example: Joe Lee, AVP of Marketing at Sutherland
Joe oversees a team of 7 marketers at a global outsourcing firm. Each week, they hold a marketing meeting to review metrics and brainstorm ideas to drive new leads. It is highly specific and often gets technical.
Figuring out your objectives and tasks requires planning each week, quarter and year. This involves a team discussion to prioritize what objectives and tasks should be included in that period. There are a few types of planning:
At the end of each year (usually December), your team should meet outside the officefor 1-2 days. During this Annual Planning meeting, you'll reflect on the successes and failures of the previous year. From there, identify what the most important priorities are for the following year, and craft your big annual objectives.
Once the annual objectives are created, you can translate them into quarterly objectives. Each annual objective is made up of several medium-sized quarterly ones that are easily measurable. Each quarter may include 3-10 of these. Every quarterly objective should be clearly mapped to an annual objective that it helps accomplish.
With quarterly objectives in place, it's now easy to assemble a task list for weekly periods. A sprint is a small time block used to group tasks, typically either 1 or 2 weeks. At the beginning of the sprint, the team meets to review the objectives and identify tasks to be completed during the period. If you know that an objective has 24 tasks involved, and there are 12 weeks in a quarter, a good framework would be weekly sprints that involve 2 tasks each.
Example: Laura Marelic, Partner at Loco Studio
Laura runs a design studio where her team consults for clients to build apps and websites. Their sprint planning is largely based upon client volume and requests, so it changes frequently.
It’s critical that sprint planning is collaborative, where each team member has input on what tasks are included. Otherwise, you’ll end up with people who are not motivated to complete their tasks because they feel forced.
All of the planning activities described here require thoughtful discussion and well-crafted documentation that outlines all of the plans made. Never rely on your team leaving a meeting and understanding the plan. Instead, follow the mantra “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” This ensures everyone will be aligned on their objectives and accountable for delivering results.
Good managers give regular, timely and actionable feedback to each person on the team. In addition to using metrics to know if they are doing a good job, people use feedback from their manager and peers to improve quality, adjust behaviors and overall grow individually. This is a perfect opportunity to coach your team, rather than just dictate to them. There are a few simple processes for giving feedback:
At a 1-1, you meet individually with each person that reports to you, ideally once per week. This meeting is an opportunity to discuss challenges, share feedback, and have an open forum to ask each other questions. Some best practices include:
- Ask each team member to arrive with an agenda for discussion
- Take notes so you can follow up on action items and commitments
- Try to avoid discussing specific tasks, and instead focus on personal growth
Replies to written updates
Managers should respond to each weekly written update. The response can be as simple as “Great job with the new recipe, customers are loving chocolate chunk cookies!” The key is to provide acknowledgement. The written update is an opportunity every week to provide direct, private feedback to each team member, or to provide public praise for tasks and objectives accomplished. Here is an example:
Thanks Brian! Great work on closing 2 new customers.
The Leadership Retreat is planned for June 20th. I'll send a detailed agenda this week.
Formal reviews involve a detailed evaluation of a team member and sometimes an adjustment to their compensation. This is typically done annually. The process can be effective as long as any feedback shared in formal reviews has already been shared in the weekly 1-1 meetings. Always avoid a situation where someone waits until the end of the year to get valuable feedback.
If you are using metrics properly, you’ll be analyzing performance on a daily or weekly basis by consistently reviewing your metrics and measuring if objectives are being achieved. This typically happens in your weekly meetings and written updates. To help facilitate your planning, there are a couple of formal analysis activities to do:
Reflection is a healthy and beneficial process. At the end of every quarter, each functional leader should compile a summary of the objectives achieved. The summary should include metrics and descriptive analysis on where the team succeeded vs. struggled. This is easier than it sounds: simply look at your quarterly objectives and write a paragraph about each, articulating if it was completed and what was learned.
Example: Drew D'Agostino, CEO of Crystal
Drew leads a 12 person team at a tech startup in Nashville with $5M in funding. He sends a detailed quarterly summary to his investors and advisors. He includes metrics and clear asks for how advisors can support his efforts.
Annual Reports aren't just for big public companies. Your annual report can simply be a compilation of your 4 quarterly summaries. Having this written record is invaluable for your company’s history and future planning. While it may sound tedious and time consuming, it is also easier than you’d think. The outline of the report is simply the Annual Objectives you defined earlier.
We’ve reached the end of the Formula, covering everything from culture to process. You now understand the basics of leading a new team.
Management and leadership are acquired skills, and they take practice. This guide is a framework for you to build upon, make your own and be the best manager.
Good luck, and reach out anytime if I can help.
My name is Greg Skloot and I'm CEO of Weekly Update, a tool that helps teams share written status updates each week. Previously, I was CEO of Attend.com ($3M funding, 30 employees) and VP Growth at Netpulse ($40M funding, 70 employees). I'd love your feedback! Feel free to Tweet @GregSkloot or email me.