Hire great people but don't just get out of their way

Last updated on 15th April 2021.

A common management bromide is "hire great people and get out of their way". But just hiring great people isn't enough. Important work will fall through the cracks and won't get done, or multiple people will work on the same thing.

So instead of just "getting out of the way", what's the lightest framework we can build to allow great people to do great work? I think we need:

  • a vision of where the organisation is going
  • a structure so they know how their role fits into achieving that vision
  • a clear route for delivering value within the organisation: for instance, for a developer, they need to know how this bit of code they are currently working on will eventually make its way customers, how customers will know about it etc.
  • a clear route for raising ideas and escalating concerns

When a start-up is such that you can all fit around one table, all these are easy. Typically, there usually is a strong vision, communicated directly by the founders. The organisation structure is flat, so everyone can talk to everyone else. A weekly all-hands is enough to get everyone aligned on what everyone else is doing, to raise ideas and to escalate concerns.

As the organisation grows, communication channels start to break down and organisations split into teams. That's where we, as team leaders, come in. We need to provide the framework that lets the great people we hire operate effectively: communicate the strategy, help ICs understand how their role contributes to the vision (ideally phrased in terms of outcomes, not features), and act as the interface with the rest of the organisation to magnify good ideas and escalate concerns.

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