The Organizational Culture of the Startup world operates under pretty explicit rules. One of the most often preached rules is “You need to learn how to let go”.
Letting go = good
The more independence the employees get = the better
A CEO getting caught up in the details = bad
Micromanagement = even worse.
Is it surely the right thing for the company and its employees? Not necessarily.
Not letting go is not about ego, but rather about the company’s vision.
I was always involved in all of the company’s fields- starting with almost every detail in the product, all the way to its development. But, I was also constantly trying to ‘let go’.
Not ‘letting go’ is usually seen as indicating an inflated ego as well as the inability to trust others and as almost petty meddling with insignificant details. I was always finding myself caught in the tension between making sure that everything is perfectly fitted to the company’s vision and trying to ‘let go’. In the past couple of months I decided to stop doing that and went back to a hands-on approach. I’m back to designing the product, running the marketing, and mostly allowing myself to be more ‘petty’ and to not approve anything that doesn’t feel right for the company.
We’re all struggling with lack of time. Every CEO of a Startup company is left at any given moment with way too many things to do, usually an almost endless list of truly important tasks. Actually, it’s also true for every manager and employee at a Startup. When there’s a section of the company that functions wonderfully without me it frees a significant amount of my time that allows me to focus on other important issues and I really appreciate it. So, why nevertheless shouldn’t one just ‘let go’ a large part of the company’s sections and focus only on the most crucial things?
I think that the basic premise about ‘letting go’ is wrong. The assumption is that if you choose not to, it means you don’t trust others enough. My perspective is completely different — no one else has the accurate vision of how all the parts of the puzzle should fit together. There’s a profound difference between ‘good work’ and what is precisely right for the company at the moment.
Ever thought why it’s so crucial to keep the original entrepreneurs a part of the company? Why it’s difficult to replace an entrepreneur with a CEO who’s an outsider when the company’s in its early stages? Why no investor invests solely in the idea itself but mostly in who is going to bring it to life?
The essence of a Startup (mainly during its early stages) is to take a vision which exists only in the mind of one person and to construct it into reality. But also, to construct it well. It’s not an easy task to accomplish when the vision is still kind of blurry, full of holes, and is constantly changing. I feel that the fact that I started going into details like the accuracy of texts, the function of every part of the product, and questions such as when a particular bug is going to be fixed was done not because I’m better than others. But, because my role is to connect all the dots to create the precise experience that I want our users to have. An experience that is comprised of so many different components, that nobody else in the company (but me) gets to reach them all.
There were times when I would admit to having slight disrespect towards managers who insisted on going into every tiny detail. Today I realize that it’s no coincidence that some of the most admired CEOs were of that sort, that it’s impossible to build a powerful and innovative vision without some very tight hands-on management.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m involved in every single aspect of Oribi. There are sections working just fine without my involvement, that I feel are established and connected to the vision enough for me to not be needed there. There are also areas not as significant to the overall vision and so I’m not as essential.
Does ‘letting go’ really benefit the employees?
The main reason that I was trying for a long time to ‘let go’ and give more independence to my employees was the common perception that this is the best way to manage and to allow people to grow and flourish. It leads to a constant tension — the product and the company are not yet realized sufficiently to let others take the lead. Then again, the will to give a free hand is still there.
During the past few years, I got to interview hundreds of candidates. One of the main topics we got to discuss was their previous managers. The ones who were appreciated the most were not the ‘letting go’ type but, rather, those who were more strict and had a particular way of doing things. To get along with such a manager demands great trust in them and the vision they’re constructing. A manager that is very much involved in the small details could be considered the best thing that happened to someone, but, to the same extent be the complete opposite for another. Not ‘letting go’ does not in any way mean that the employees don’t get any independence. On the contrary, precisely because I now allow myself to have a zero tolerance policy for anything that doesn’t match the vision, the team has a much better understanding of the direction we’re taking. Being thorough in the small details helps them greatly to see and connect to the bigger picture. In this state, a whole lot of creation could be done. In the past three months since I stopped letting go a large share of the new features, texts in the product, and decisions regarding the company’s culture came from the team, not from me. The insistence on sticking to the vision and not leaving any element behind lead to an overall better understanding about the road ahead and about the right way to create organic harmony, rather than artificially letting go.
There are some cases you should let go
We all have areas of expertise. Almost always, they would also be the ones providing us with the greatest satisfaction. For me, that would be the marketing, the product’s road-map, and the finances. Usually, it’s hard to give up on what we feel we excel at. A pattern that I saw many managers partaking in was the unhealthy attachment to a loved section and the refusal to pass it on to someone else. This is a completely different kind of “letting go” than the one I was discussing in the post so far. That is, not letting go due to a fear of leaving the comfort zone or of someone else taking your place. If one of my team members is able to comprehend completely a certain part of the vision, I let that part go. Even if it happens to be what I love doing the most.
The second occasion would be- prioritizing. I believe that the construction of a mind-blowing product depends on all of the tiny details combined — starting from the product features, every technical choice made, all the way to the social aspect of the team. In the early stages, there’s hardly anything that is insignificant. But, some parts are more crucial than others. I wrote quite a bit about focus in the past. The magic of the Startup is creating an entire universe using only a small team. At any given moment I (and of course, the team as well) can identify what matters most. In the micro and macro of the vision. There are features more important than others, there are times in which marketing is priority number one and times it drags behind, there are bugs that I must thoroughly investigate and ones I’m not even aware of.
So, in the past few months, I’m learning how to be “petty” and to not feel guilty about it, how to guide the team about the best way to connect all the dots to paint the exact image of the vision that I have in my mind.