August 19, 2019

How a Startup Can Enable Successful Managers

How a Startup Can Enable Successful Managers

Aki Technologies LogoThere’s a common assumption that a role in “talent” is focused primarily on recruiting. While that’s certainly a part of the role, the reality is that enabling a successful business means staying with the talent even after orientation. Along these lines, one of the best parts of my role at Aki Technologies is ensuring that our team members have the opportunity for growth.

I’m lucky enough to work for a startup that understands this and excels at promoting employees internally. It’s rewarding to recognize high-performers with new opportunities and watch them take on new challenges as the company evolves. This is especially true in promoting individuals to manager level—many of our managers at Aki are first-timers, so it’s exciting to give them a chance to step up.

At the same time, we realize new managers don’t yet have the experience or training to be maximally effective. That’s why we have to take the time to help them mature, thrive, and prosper. There are a few things we do to that end.

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First, we aim to be clear about our expectations from managers. It seems like a simple notion, but it’s often overlooked, despite how important it is for success. And the expectations aren’t simply in what project goals need to be achieved, though that’s important, too. It’s also in how to approach management. I believe Liz Wiseman’s theory that effective managers are “multipliers.” Their intelligence amplifies the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. By helping our new managers understand this, the team is better aligned.

We also devote time and resources into enabling our managers’ success. For example, we’re planning on doing a managers’ offsite soon, where we’ve invited a UC Berkeley educator and trainer to that event to lead a customized training program. Then, of course, we’ll take the time to share our learnings and have fun, bonding time together. Cementing these learnings and relationships is invaluable.

Along the same lines, we’ve worked with LifeLabs Learning, a firm that helps fast-growth startups learn about different psychologies. The group works to best equip teams with the tools they need to succeed. The main takeaways that we’ve implemented are Coaching, Feedback, One-on-Ones, and Productivity and Prioritization. Particularly helpful are the internal trainings and workshops led by experts and these are the core areas we believe to have the most impact on manager effectiveness.

At Aki Technologies, we’re also big believers in mentorship. We have incredible, seasoned executives on the team that mentor our rising talent. And we wholeheartedly embrace one-on-one meetings between each team member and his or her manager. These provide a forum in which managers both give and get feedback. And it’s a perfect time to create individual development plans. But feedback in a vacuum isn’t enough. We believe in positive and public feedback.

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We believe the most powerful way to praise is to provide positive feedback publicly so that others in the organization can see it. We use a performance management and engagement tool called Reflektive that allows us to give public “kudos” to anyone in the organization for any reason. It also allows us to recognize which of our company’s core values are being implemented by the employee which allows us to keep our core values at top of mind and helps to reinforce them.

A lot of the protocols we embrace might seem like obvious fundamentals. But we’ve watched far too many startups falter when they fail to bring out the best in their teams. Startup culture means that people must wear multiple hats. Unfortunately, the critical building blocks for establishing a strong foundation sometimes get missed as startups start to scale. So, we value putting the time and energy into bringing out the best in our teams. It may look like an extra step but building a business is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Sarah Haskell

Sarah Haskell is SVP of Talent at Aki Technologies — a company that revolutionizes how marketers engage mobile consumers.

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