Small Company Mistake #2: Hiring Big Company Managers

I’ve been doing some interviewing lately for several open positions at my company, including a high-profile management spot.  As I work my way through the interview process I have been making a conscious effort to reflect back on previous hires, hoping to narrow down exactly why some small company managers work out so well . . . and why others crash, burn, and (in some cases) take the company with them.  Although there are usually multiple contributing factors to a small company manager’s demise, the most common is often a ‘Big Company’ mentality.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Big company managers don’t like to do things.  Any small company looking to post significant growth cannot afford to have managers who just ‘manage.’  Although large companies love to place potential hires into the ‘tactical’ or ’strategic’ category, the fact is that all small company managers must be BOTH.  At small companies there is almost always more work than there are people to do it, and paying out a near-six figure salary to someone who refuses to get their hands dirty is rarely an option.
  • Big company managers need lots of support.  People who spend time as managers in Fortune 1000 firms quickly get used to being surrounded by people; coordinators, administrators, technical resources, subject matter experts, sales engineers and customer support staff being some examples.  And when big company managers accept small company jobs, they either expect these support people to be in place, or they demand the freedom (and the budget) to hire them.
  • Big company managers love structure.  Does your small company endorse weekly ‘go around the room’ status meetings? Is the management hierarchy always followed when decisions are being made? Does every employee have a policies and procedures binder in their overhead bin?  If not, a big company manager will spend the first six months on the job forcing these things into place, and making everyone else miserable in the process.
  • Big company managers tend to overplan. Whether or not big company managers choose to admit it, their management culture is rooted in one simple premise: the more you research, meet about and discuss an idea, the less likely you are to look bad if the idea is a bust.  A good small company manager isn’t afraid to take a risk and try something new . . . or look bad if things don’t work out.
  • Big company managers play politics differently.  Organizations looking to post significant growth don’t have time to dance around important issues.  This is why so many small company environments are fueled by the thing big company managers fear most: brutal honesty.  Will the manager you’re interviewing have the guts to say something when you’re wrong?  Or are you going to be stuck with a ‘yes’ person on the executive team?

Agree or disagree with anything on this list?  Want to defend your favorite big company manager? Feel free to comment on this post.

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