I didn’t know it, but until a year ago I was a management cynic. Now I’m a management evangelist. My conversion wasn’t an epiphany but a gradual appreciation of the value of clarity, through organisation and structure. All thanks to one person whose 12 years of training and unstoppable enthusiasm wouldn’t take chaos for an answer, and who was incapable of leaving a meeting without a clear outcome.
In a business with more than 70 SKUs and a lot of innovation, without clarity we would be on a fast-track to confusion. So I’m a big fan of any system or process that brings more clarity.
Timing had a lot to do with my appreciation of management. We had taken on people with management training from large organisations before and it had failed, repeatedly. With hindsight I think we were simply too small. When you can talk to everyone across a single bank of desks, an impromptu discussion is a meeting. And one five-minute meeting is all it takes to decide to launch a new range of foods or start a café. At this stage I viewed any form of management as a time-consuming obstacle to making stuff happen.
Once we were 20 people, impromptu cross-desk chat-meetings didn’t work so well, as people got missed out, and a lack of meeting notes meant that the people who were there each went away with a slightly different view of what was agreed, with nothing to reference later.
Of course, people management is as important, if not more, as business management. Even for the kind of people who want to work in a startup environment. These are people who thrive on change, quick decision-making and responsibility. If you like to be told what to do, require data or time to do it, or lots of support, the startup world might be your idea of hell.
But everybody benefits from clear expectations and consistency, whether that’s over when it’s OK to take time off in lieu or what progression looks like in a small business with a relatively flat structure.
We aren’t the easiest bunch to manage, with a tendency to have decision-changing meetings with ourselves and last-minute ‘brainwaves’, but now there are meeting notes to hold us to account.