Input vs. Output

One of the conversations that seems to be coming up more and more with first time founders is around the management of teams.

As we invest in, and see more less experienced founders, they are continually thrown into situations where there is an expectation–of what I can only assume is natural talent–to be a solid tactical leader.

Most founders are not naturally gifted at tactical decision making or leadership. Inspire investors to give you money? People to work for you? easy. Managing a team of people that are fundamentally different? hard.

In a standard decision-making paradigm, we default to what we know and how we would react to the requested action. Our perceptions are colored by our own needs and desires, and projected onto our team, leading to the level of value placed on an individual member of our team to be directly related to how a task is completed, rather than the what was completed.

It’s easy to focus on the input. What time does someone come to the office? How long are they there? Are they sitting at their desk or waking around? Do they play music? Take breaks? Are they on IM always? never? How do they code? What’s the process of their development? Do they work off product reqs or do they just go for it?

These are all input questions, and completely useless in managing a successful cross-diseplenary team.

As a CEO, the first realization you must accept is that developers work differently than business development folks who work differently than designers who work differently than product people. Your goal as CEO is not to get everyone to work hard, but effectively.

That’s why culture matters. Friday happy hours? Most BD people could care less. They have been to 15 happy hours in the last week. Uniform desks? Most developers have a style that they like. Uniform isn’t that style.

One of the common statements I hear, especially from CEOs that have a business background is “I want everyone together, working hard. I am happy to pull all-nighters to get shit done!” (yes, engineers, I hear you groaning.)

Imagine if instead, she said: “Here is our goal, and the deadline it’s due. What can I do to help you, help the team achieve this goal?” and then really listening.

That’s focusing on the output. Thats the secret.

Building a culture and management style that is focused on the output changes how you manage your team. It allows engineers to effectively manage business people and vice versa. More importantly, you get into a habit of communicating goals and requirements clearly, which makes it so much easier to do externally with investors, advisors and customers.

CEO/Founders want to feel that everyone is working as hard as they are. That is an impossible goal, as you grade how “hard you work,” unrealistically and therefore place those same unrealistic expectations on your team.

Think output. Think clear goals and milestones. Think end vs. means. Yes, in an early stage company, the end matters more than the means, or as one of my favorite CEO/Founders, Todd Vernon, used to say (to everyone), “Just hack that shit.”

It sucks that first-time CEO/Founders are expected to manage at a high level with minimal training and support. Instead of waiting until the inevitable moment when you fire yourself or are replaced by your board, become a fantastic tactical leader.

After all, do you care how your doctor studied in medical school, or the output of his surgical effort?


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