Why This CEO Will Never Hire Another Manager
October 27, 2015

Why This CEO Will Never Hire Another Manager

by Brian de Haaff

I seem to have struck a nerve with Sunday’s post, “You Should Run From These 3 Crazy Managers.” More than 60,000 people read the post and more than 140 of you took time to comment. I thought that some of you would appreciate it, but wow, that was a serious response.

Many were very familiar with the three types of crazy managers I described: the rock collector, the double-speaker, and the life-styler. Some unfortunate readers have even worked under one person who exhibits all of these crazy behaviors! A few shared other specimens that they have encountered in their careers:

“My favorite is the “seagull” manager: Flies in, makes a great deal of noise, craps over everything and flies out again.”

Several readers agreed that the seagull manager has a way of making his mark on the people around him. Another reader offered this example of a manager who creates havoc by simply doing nothing:

“The turtle manager… absent frequently, hides from confrontation, inside their supposed shell of invisibility, hoping that the problem will just go away. The disservice to not only the staff, but to the customer — who ends up paying the ultimate price — is appalling.”

Well said! Poor management — in whatever form it takes — winds up being costly for everyone. These creative contributions from readers inspired me to think of a new one: “the leprechaun” — always chasing the imaginary path to gold. But…

This next comment really got me thinking.

“80% of ALL managers are not needed. “Most” companies would run well without them. Companies could save millions without the do-nothing managers. People who should be managers never seem to get the title.”

Three crazy managers? No, that’s wrong. There are more like 12 or 24, once I really started thinking about it. Maybe I had it all wrong. Why do we even need managers in the first place?

Please understand that I am not suggesting that we do not need people to lead. On the contrary, we need more strong leaders. I am talking about when organizations get large enough to have people whose only responsibility is managing other people. The problem is that they often misbehave because the organization encourages them too. They often worry about their own standing, which increasingly becomes defined based on the number of people who report to them — the number of people they control.

So, what would happen if there were no people who just managed other people?

This is a fascinating concept: A world without managers.

This rings true for me. At Aha!, we only hire people who do great work AND help others do their best work too. I talk to the team about player/coaches — people who lead from the front.

We hire strong contributors first and then we help them grow into team leaders. We are clearly an emerging company and are still relatively small, but I sense that this model can scale. Here’s how it works:

Goal-first At Aha! we have a goal-first mindset and we recommend this way of working to our customers as well. When you agree on the shared goal, you maintain a tight focus on the outcome, not the organization. Being goal-first helps you remember that the organization exists to achieve the goals, and not the other way around. Focus on the outcomes, not on how many people you have pursuing them.

Get naked Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant. That is why you should insist on transparent communications throughout your entire organization. Make everyone’s work and their weekly, monthly, and annual objectives wide-open for the entire organization to see. Where there is transparency, there is nowhere to hide.

Honor achievement Too many teams are active but achieve nothing. That is why you should honor action at every level. Celebrate strong efforts that create value for customers and employees — not internal advancement. This keeps everyone humble and focused when progress is what’s valued.

Be schooled Set stretch goals for everyone and then expect them to work really hard to get there. Demand that your team leaders make team growth and education part of their daily efforts, because people will fall short sometimes. Emphasize learning throughout the organization, which keeps both the leaders and everyone else fresh.

As organizations get larger, more structured decision-making policies are developed and put in place. Hierarchy naturally sets in.

That hierarchy can be meaningful if it helps get more work done. But often it does not, as managers simply manage.

Too many managers do not create value themselves — and worse they often diminish the value that their own teams would deliver without them.

Can you imagine a world with no managers?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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