How do I maange "up" at a small company?
July 15, 2018 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I got hired on at a small tech company and one person runs the shows. I was hired to relieve this person of some of their responsibilities so they could focus on growing the business. I feel as if they're playing the "I'm busy and need help but secretly don't want anyone but myself to do things" game. Details within.

We get along, sort of. I'm senior management, but there's several red flags:

1. Before my start date a large opportunity arose they needed help with. Reluctantly, and to be a team player, I offered to help out over the weekend. I did, but on my start date they had a meltdown over me because I was not online when they thought I should be (we had previously discussed the time zone I'd be available in, unfortunately not in writing, after I brought this up with them they were okay with it.)

2. They bad mouth other senior management that I'm supposed to work with. Some of this is legitimate but I believe their behavior over small missed issues is disconcerting. Other senior management has called me up apologizing as I am the more laid back one, as in "Was this a big miss on our part?" "No, I'm not sure why I'm getting e-mails over this." is usually how the conversation goes.

3. Despite claiming needing help, they attend meetings they should not and completely hijack them. I believe this is related to the other senior management not leading in their style.

4. I feel as if they expect senior management to do everything as they did, when the whole idea is that we have roles and responsibilities we need to delegate. I realize delegation is hard to learn, but often necessary to grow the company. I feel this stresses other team members quite a bit and creates a lot of confusion.

5. Related to (4), I get a very high-strung "adderall" vibe from them. As if suddenly something out of the blue becomes important.

6. I was at a company years earlier that was similarly sized and the owner/president behaved in a similarly controlling way. "I need someone to help out, but I won't let them help out and they need to prove themselves day one." This has me concerned.

My questions are specific: How, if at all, do I mitigate this? There must be some sort of management technique that is at least somewhat successful, or am I completely screwed?
posted by geoff. to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Who hired you, and was it voluntary? Much of the time as companies grow, the founder is forced into delegation by their board but doesn't really like/accept it. Do you have a sponsor in the organisation besides the founder?

I would probably sit down and capture what I think my responsibilities are and use that as a base for discussion with the primary manager. Be aware, however, that for someone who is controlling and/or chaotic, this can be very confrontational. I would likely do it anyhow, because if I couldn't get it straight I wouldn't want to stay but I don't know how much you need this job.
posted by frumiousb at 6:19 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you need to be a lion tamer with this exec, and "help them" focus on what they're supposed to be focused on doing.

One way to do this is schedule a weekly hour-long check-in between yourself and the manager (I'm assuming you're doing daily standing meetings in the morning).

Try to document what the CEO is supposed to be doing ("the strategic") versus what you're supposed to be doing ("the operational"). Create a list for each.

In subsequent meetings, be a lion tamer and hold your CEO accountable: "I think there is an opportunity cost to you attending these meetings -- we need you to focus on the strategic").

If your CEO insists on attending, say, "I'd like to take this on so we can continue to create efficient operational processes and grow as a company... what specific concerns do you have that I can relay to the team?"

As mentioned this requires you to be a lion-tamer, and it's a bit of a tight-rope act. Not everybody is used to calling out the boss. You also need to be diplomatic, but clear in the intent of your words.

Be brave!
posted by JamesBay at 7:52 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

The company doesn't sound so small anymore, with senior managers, and then managers and teams below them. So perhaps he hasn't really adjusted to this?
Could you have a 1-1 and broach the subject by saying discussing which your responsibilities you should focus on? You could also express a preference for say longer term goals that you own and see through to delivery. Also ask that he delegates somethings entirely to you and judge by outcome, not process - so discuss what metrics for success to use.
posted by JonB at 11:19 PM on July 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is all par for the course for working for a startup CEO. Your job is to do a few things:
1) get them to trust you so that you can nudge them on some of these behaviors. Don't try to change them drastically or quickly, it won't work. But over time build up the trust so you can get them to actually delegate stuff to you and you can improve the situation for the team below them
2) keep them over informed of what's going on. Startup founders are usually control freaks who don't want to let go and feel extremely anxious when they don't know what is going on.
3) generally speaking, try to do things the way they want them done, and pick your battles. This is not a mature senior exec who understands that the company will be better when they let go a little bit. If you try to run everything your way they'll freak out. So look for the most important things for the company and start with just a couple of those things. This will not go well for you if you want or expect a lot of autonomy, because the little you get will be hard-earned and subject to renegotiation at their whims.

In general the people who seem to do well with these sorts of roles are good yes wo/men, who can handle doing things they may not agree with in order to influence a few things for the better and maybe insulate the rest of the staff from the whims of the CEO. Good luck. It's a thankless job.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:18 AM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Travel destinations for one   |   Looking for a French music video from the late... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.