Y Combinator’s Advice for Managers

Aaron Epstein

People leave managers, not companies, so here’s some advice I wish someone had given me when I was just beginning to grow and manage a team at Creative Market. From Aaron Epstein at YC: 

Delegate! If you think you’re going to have to work especially late or can’t get to the things you need to in a given day, take that as a signal to delegate to your team.

Create growth opportunities: Great people often care about personal growth way more than money or any other tangible benefit you could offer them, so the flip side of delegating your responsibilities is that you create opportunities for people on your team to do new things, learn, and grow.

Invest in your stars: Similar to how it’s much easier to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one, it’s much easier to keep an existing star employee happy than find a new star. Go above and beyond to make sure your stars feel valued, appreciated, and rewarded.

Lead by example: Teams embody the characteristics of their leaders, and the things you care about will be the things your team cares about. If you sweat the details, your team will learn to sweat the details too.

Your team’s success is your success: As a manager, you’re responsible for the accomplishments of your team, which can be a difficult transition for a lot of people. The advantage is that you can scale yourself and your vision.

Deflect all credit and absorb all blame: Use “I” when talking about a screw-up, and use “we” (or better yet, specific contributors’ names) when talking about successes. A little recognition goes a long way to make people feel valued.

Share the big picture: It’s important for people on your team to understand how their work and role fit into the big picture of the business, and why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’ll give them a sense of purpose and motivation to understand how they’re contributing to the success of the business.

Repeat yourself often: You should feel like you sound like a broken record about the things that are important to your company?—?your mission, your vision, your KPIs, etc. You think about it all the time, but the people on your team don’t, and most people need to hear something many times before it truly gets ingrained in their memory.

You’re in charge: It can be uncomfortable telling people what to do if you’ve never done it before. But you are the leader, and everyone on your team will be looking to you for direction and guidance, so own it.

Set deadlines and hold people accountable: When you give someone a task, ask “by when?”, then add a note to your calendar to follow up to make sure it’s complete. If standards or deadlines are not being met, give direct feedback to change future behavior.

Verbalize your thoughts: People aren’t mind readers, so rather than just jumping into solutions when giving feedback, state your feelings out loud to be clear and direct.

Manage for the employee: Each person has a unique combination of experience, motivations, personality, etc, and it’s up to you to take the right management approach that helps them succeed and maximizes their contribution.

Understand that everyone’s different: Just because you may be an achiever that’s self-motivated to get things done doesn’t mean that everyone else on your team is. Get curious to figure out what drives and motivates each individual on your team, rather than assuming everyone’s like you.

Hire slow, fire fast: Great people want to work with other great people, so resist the temptation to fill open positions with mediocre candidates, and don’t settle.

Set your team up for success: As their manager, it’s your responsibility to invest the time early on to set expectations, show them the ropes, teach them about your business, train them, and provide clear direction and a well-defined role. Anything less will diminish their ability to succeed.

Your trust should be earned: Don’t just assume that new and more inexperienced team members will hit the ground running and understand your expectations from day one. Make them prove themselves first by working more closely with them and frequently reviewing their work until they’ve earned your full trust.

Include your team in decision-making: Even if your team disagrees with the final call, by including them in the process they will better understand the decision, feel like their opinion was valued, and be able to get on board to help support the decision going forward.

A little professional tension is healthy: Differing perspectives help make teams and products better, so a little professional tension can be really valuable to help push your team to think about things in new ways.

Show your work: Whenever you take a controversial action or make a difficult decision, it’s especially powerful to fully explain how you arrived at that decision so your team can understand your thought process and rationale, and ultimately help support the decision.

t’s ok to not always know the answer: Ask questions, probe, and admit when you don’t know the answer to something. There’s nothing wrong with saying you’ll need some time to think or learn more before making an important decision.

Have consistent 1-on-1s every week: These are for the benefit of your employees, so you should let them drive the agenda each week. From your side, it’s an opportunity to set aside some focused time each week to talk privately, get on the same page, and ask open-ended questions like “how are things going?”, “how are you feeling?”, “what are your thoughts on the big news that was announced earlier this week?”, “what’s your opinion on X?”, etc.

Create a career path: Every 6 months, ask your employees where they want to be in their career in the next 2–3 years. Work with them to put together a plan, help them get the skills and experience they need, and guide them on a course to get there.

Photo by Mahbod Akhzami on Unsplash

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