Note: This column, and the associated video clips, were derived from a presentation from 12 to 200, a Kleiner Perkins conference on growing entrepreneurial businesses, held in Stanford, California on July 16, 2013. This is the second of a three-part series on entrepreneurial management. The first part addressed the concept of “minimally invasive management" by Randy Komisar, KPCB Partner.
When I worked with WebTV, where they had one of the best teams I’ve ever seen, they had a very simple process of establishing priorities. They took Post-it notes, and they wrote four things on them: schedule, cost, reliability and features, in that order. Everyone had the same note on their desk: finance, marketing, engineering. The goal was, when you were sitting around trying to solve a problem, deciding how to invest your time, figuring out how to resolve conflict, you had four very simple things to look at – and suddenly everything became clear. You knew which one to optimize for.
That sort of clarity empowers people to make decisions on their own and to do it in unison so that your company doesn’t have to build process after process after process. If your managers are spending more time talking to each other than to their people, then you have too much process.
You need to create environments that empower your people.
Today, when recruiting, you hear a lot about autonomy, they want control, deciding how to spend their time…you’ve got to have a balance between giving people the freedom to take care of their lives and their priorities in the context of their work, and also unifying the team. Frederick Taylor would roll over in his grave.
There are simple things you can do. Make sure your group meetings are in the middle of the day. Not in the early morning when someone is sending their kids off to school, or late in the day when somebody should be getting together with their family to have dinner. And keep all meetings short, people will fill the time so make it tight. The best ideas have a way of coming out first anyway. Make sure that attending meetings is not a status symbol, its a chore and people should be happy to have a small group address the issues on their behalf while they are doing the work that is most important. Make them accountable, but don’t try to make them punch a clock. That’s what we’re looking for in this creative economy. People want that freedom – and at the same time we have to build common effort and common purpose as a team. Simple things allow that to happen.
Another key to success is the concept of creative friction. This is an idea that does not get enough attention, in part because it is so hard to do.
When you build diverse groups of people, you end up with different perspectives, different styles, different experiences … you end up with conflict and friction. If you are capable of managing creative friction well you have a highly innovative organization. And if not, you have chaos.
But the alternative is to hire an organization that looks just like you. That’s easy. It’s easy to manage, it’s easy to communicate with, it’s easy to empathize with; unfortunately, it’s also not a highly creative organization. There’s nobody testing people’s assumptions. There’s nobody stressing people’s expectations.
But managing creative friction takes a special talent. It is really hard. It takes an investment of time, it takes an investment of effort, and you have to have a soft hand to make sure the organization is on the one hand functioning and on the other hand questioning. Embracing creative friction is the high art of management.
The notion that every strong individual performer should eventually get rewarded by becoming a manager is a mistake – a huge mistake. If your organization is set up so the hierarchy of success looks like you go from being a great individual performer to a great team leader to a manager, then you aren’t actually appreciating your means of creation.
There should be dual tracks. Individual creators and performers should have an opportunity to be rewarded, to advance their careers, to have more influence, to make more money, without having to get onto a management track. Management is a different function. It’s a service function. Coming up with a process to discern who should stay as individual contributors and who should be managers is a crucial part of the management function.