how do I manage a foundering co-founder?
December 11, 2011 7:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I be less strong at work? I am managing equity development for a start-up in Europe. Bad times so please don't bother mentioning it. I have had a good run since I arrived in October and was rewarded with two staff for my department last week. Problem: one of them is the co-founder of my company. He is not capable of working on a project he will not get public credit for. I am at my wit's end with his shirking of deadlines and his "right away" promises. How do I deal with this difficult position?

I have a strong sensibility around Getting Things Done and I try to lead by example by doing a lot of research and planning ahead. I probably write two or three proposals a week. I began to have problems with this co-founder when I came. He was generous to offer time for me and then continued with a line of behavior which made clear to everyone that he could not complete assignments in a timely manner. He frequently will not do a job at all and then give an eloquent reason for his lack of responsibility. Which is extremely frustrating. I had told him that personally I could see him elevating back to being in line with me in six months but now I am in doubt. I feel like I am partially at fault because I am a strong manager who gets things done and he can take advantage of my getting things done so he doesn't have to.

What can you recommend that I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not clear to me exactly what the reporting structure is here. Who do you report to? Does this co-founder report directly to you? Do you have the power to fire him? If not, does anyone have the power to fire him? What happens if he doesn't get his work done? Feel free to MeMail me if you want to chat; I've had a lot of direct reports who were difficult to manage. But I feel like it's going to be hard to give you a good answer based on what you've told us here.
posted by decathecting at 8:21 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, I was in a really similar situation (although I was not the one in power.) Cofounder was an entitled, lazy jackass but was the guy with the relationship to the venture capital, so our CEO couldn't just get rid of him. He'd periodically come up with "brilliant ideas" but couldn't be bothered to follow through on them. Absolutely infuriating.

What we eventually did was just stop giving him work to do. He could come up with his wacky ideas but no one else would be assigned to work on them, so they wouldn't ever go anywhere - because he wasn't going to do any of the actual work. Eventually he just stopped coming in to work. That was kind of the best we could ask for.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:30 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there a benefit to keeping this type of relationship in the future? I've found that if someone who has good political connections sees you as the "go to guy" then it only helps your career advancement. If you make them look good, they want to keep you around no matter what company they move on to.

So maybe it's not all bad.
posted by MeatFilter at 10:45 PM on December 11, 2011

If the nature of the job requires him to work as a member of a team, you'll have to manage him as you would any other difficult employee, which is to say that you assign him definite tasks, give him measurable goals and clear deadlines, closely monitor his progress, provide explicit verbal and written feedback, and document the hell out of everything. Since your department just expanded, this would be a natural time to start holding regular team meetings and having everyone give brief status reports on their projects. This would provide some public accountability, which is often helpful in managing those who are indolent yet competitive.

If you are truly confident that he could only be a hindrance as a team member, can you assign him a project of his very own in an area that isn't immediately essential to the company? It would be "his" project, so it would give him the opportunity to earn the public credit he craves, and it would keep him out of your hair. If this is possible, give him a timeline and regularly review his progress, and otherwise leave him to it.

Either way, don't do his work for him. This is not what strong managers do. I'm too lazy to go find the book on my shelves right now, but in The Partners, James B. Stewart quoted someone as saying that John Doar was a great lawyer who could do the work of three -- but give him a staff of thirty and he could still do the work of three. Don't be John Doar.
posted by timeo danaos at 5:07 AM on December 12, 2011

There's a great word in Japanese: madogiwazoku, literally, the "by the window tribe." These are older middle managers who don't do anything but can't be fired (back in the days of "lifetime employment"), so they get stationed by a window they can stare out of, where they'll be out of the way.

Perhaps this guy needs to be kept on payroll for political reasons. Can you just treat him as deadweight? Give him assignments like "find the cutest kitten of the week on"
posted by adamrice at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2011

From the OP:
I report directly to the CEO, who would like me to move to COO in six month's time. This is certainly a test to deal with a wayward employee.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on December 12, 2011

If this is a test, keep being strong. It's frustrating, but it's not really much of a choice. Manage him the best you can, and treat it as a lesson in learning patience. Keep him on track the best you can, but don't let it bring overall performance down.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:16 AM on December 12, 2011

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