In 2006, I started a biodiesel operation for The Doe Fund, a non-profit organization in NYC that creates businesses to employ formerly homeless or incarcerated men. There I was: a kid from rural Massachusetts leading 10 men from the toughest neighborhoods in New York. One of my employees, who was about my age, hailed from the South Bronx but had spent the last 10 years in Federal Prison for shooting a rival dealer. Another had started using heroin when he was nine years old.
Today, my team at Spottah is the exact opposite: highly skilled knowledge workers. The degree-to-employee ratio is 1.7. Technology recruiters, not DEA agents, are breaking down our doors. Email is our addiction.
These distinct experiences defined my management philosophy. The manager’s job is to understand the goals of his team members, and align those goals with the organization’s goals.
The fact that this philosophy works with people three sigmas right or left is testament to its strength. Take Lester from The Doe Fund, for example. Lester’s goal was to land a job with New York City Sanitation. Some of you may be thinking, “‘garbage man’ doesn’t sound like a great goal.” But it is. It’s high-paying, secure, and provides benefits. Once I knew Lester’s goal, I was able to align his goal with the goal of my biodiesel unit. We focused on establishing a safe driving record, following safety protocols, truck maintenance and crew management.
Fast forward to Spottah. A few months back, we brought on a new graphic designer named Chris. Chris came to us as a product manager at a major web property. The extent of his design experience were a few side projects and a ton of photography. He knew photoshop and had an eye for design.
Being a product manager, Chris had two personal goals. First, improve as a designer, specifically by focusing on logos & icons, textures, fonts and the balance of the screen. Second, he wanted to push the boundaries of the mobile user experience.
Initially, I favored an incremental redesign -- you know, change an image size here and a font there and eventually achieve a new look. Incremental change, however, did not align with Chris’s goals. Furthermore, incremental change was not best for Spottah; our success rests on an amazing user experience. So we tasked Chris with razing the old design and completely re-imagining our product. Thanks to Chris’s designs and Yin’s ability to implement anything, the new version of Spottah looks and feels amazing. Here is a taste, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer for the full meal. Sorry.
Gaining an honest understanding of your team members’ goals is not easy. A person’s goals may not include the current company; Lester, for example, had a goal of working for DSNY, not The Doe Fund. Also, a person may fear that their goal counters the goal of their manager or another team member; Chris wanted a complete redesign while I initially wanted to move in increments. It is essential to create an environment where people can honestly share their goals. If a company fails to achieve this, than people will project false goals and the manager will not be able to develop a meaningful plan for achieving individual and company goals.
I'm the Founder and CEO of Peak Support. This blog is my take on early-stage companies and innovation. Every so often, there may be a post about culture, networking, family -- you name it. After all, what is a blog if it isn't a tad bit unstructured.