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5 Rules for Promoting Managers at a Fast-Growing Startup

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There's nothing quite like being part of a growing company during a hiring spree. The atmosphere in the office is electric, everyone is firing on all cylinders, you're crushing your numbers, all systems are go.


It's also hectic. Companies usually hire aggressively to add horsepower to an operation already in overdrive. The problem is, nothing creates as much work as an influx of fresh faces who will take a few months each to ramp up. Training new hires well, while dealing with tons of existing work, is a challenge faced by every company going through a recruitment phase.

Related: Promoting the Right Employee

Our solution has been to build a round of managerial promotions into our company's onboarding protocol, and it's worked phenomenally. Along the way, we learned a few lessons. These guidelines have helped us grow operational bandwidth, lay the groundwork for organic expansion later on and unlock huge leadership talent in some of our highest performers.

1. Keep your org chart tight.

Dumping new hires wherever the current org chart dictates is a likely spread your existing managers extremely thin. Instead, place new employees into teams led by people who already report to a manager, especially when onboarding a few hires at a time.

Try to structure the company such that no supervisor has more than five or six direct reports in general. Index your promotions along that guideline when slotting in the new positions. This creates as little new work as possible when adding hires and keeps the org chart sustainable throughout successive rounds of hiring.

2. Promote from within.

Your organizational culture is the most essential quality to maintain throughout a growth spurt. Culture is the link between the company's future and the work that it took to get where you are today. It's the reason talented people come to work for you instead of someone else.

You may need to import managers at times, but in all cases, make it a priority to retain the company DNA in leadership positions. The best way to ensure that is to promote from your own ranks. Stay loyal to your culture by staying loyal to your people.

Related: 7 Traits to Turn Good Managers Into Great Managers

3. Use the buddy system for new managers.

Being the only employee to be made a first-time manager can be a seriously alienating experience. It's hard to go from excelling in a team environment to being solely in charge of one, laden with new responsibilities and judged against an unfamiliar rubric.

Address this growing pain by promoting managers in pairs or groups, when possible. Allow them to learn from each other and ramp up as teammates. The company benefits by not only aiding their managerial development, but by ending up with more trained managers ready to absorb future additions.

Of all the support that higher-ups can offer to newly-minted managers, a capable peer is the most helpful.

4. Not everyone is manager material...

Just like any other role, managing people requires specific skills: emotional intelligence, planning and even a certain political savvy, to name a few. Simply being a strong contributor doesn't confer any of these qualities. Moreover, not every high performer in the company will be interested in acquiring them.

An employee who is simply not interested in developing managerial skills, regardless of the caliber of their output, is not a good fit for a managerial role. When evaluating candidates for a management position, ask them whether they want to develop these skills and change their role in the company. The fact is, it's not for everyone.

5…and that has to be OK.

To have that conversation honestly, it's imperative that managerial promotion not represent the sole mode of advancement within your company. If a high performer delivers better results as an individual contributor than they would as a manager, then let them continue to do that without making them feel like they're sacrificing recognition.

There's nothing to be gained by forcing a talented individual contributor to sit through planning meetings and level-sets that are far afield of their competencies. A promotion to management should be an operational decision first and foremost; a reward for good work, yes, but one designed to drive results by leveraging leadership potential in the promoted employee.

If a rising superstar's talents are maximized by staying hands-on with the product -- especially if that's what they want -- then acknowledge their value to the company (and compensate them commensurately) while keeping them right where they produce their best results.

Related: What Bad Managers, Good Managers and Great Managers Do

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