Apr 052012

Scaling Me

Scaling Me

Two things have come up over the last couple years for me that are frustrations for me as a CEO of a high growth company.  These are both people related — an area that’s always been the cornerstone of my leadership patterns.  That probably makes them even more frustrating.

Frustration 1:  Not knowing if I can completely trust the feedback I get from deep in the organization.  I’ve always relied on direct interactions with junior staff and personal observation and data collection in order to get a feel for what’s going on.  But a couple times lately, people had been admonishing me (for the first time) when I’ve relayed feedback with comments like, “of course you heard that — you’re the CEO.”

So now the paranoid Matt kicks in a bit.  Can I actually trust the feedback I’m getting?  I think I can.  I think I’m a good judge of character and am able to read between the lines and filter comments and input and responses to questions I ask.  But maybe this gets harder as the organization grows and as personal connections to me are necessarily fewer and farther between.

Frustration 2:  Needing to be increasingly careful with what I say and how I say it.  This comes up in two different ways.  First, I want to make sure that while I’m still providing as transparent leadership as I can, that I’m not saying something that’s going to freak out a more junior staff member because they’re missing context or might misinterpret what I’m saying.  Ok, this one I can manage.

But the tougher angle on this is having unintended impact on people.  Throwing out a casual idea in a conversation with someone in the company can easily lead to a chain reaction of “Matt said” and “I need to redo my goals” conversations that aren’t what I meant.  So I’ve done some work to formalize feedback and communication loops when I have skip-level check-ins, but it’s creating more process and thought overhead for me than I’m used to.

Nothing is bad here – just signs of a growing organization – but some definite changes in how I need to behave in order to keep being a strong and successful leader.

  • Renato

    I’ve been there. Staff started paying attention to my mood, to cloths and other things that didn’t matter before.

    “Of course you heard that, you’re the ceo” might also be interpreted as “you need me to hear the truth”.

    It is predictable and unavoidable, but you can also use the “indirect channels” as means to send indirect messages.

    I try to be more careful with my direct reports – they are responsible for spreading the message and for keeping staff as much aligned and engaged as possible. It is sad – I miss having direct contact.

    It is very exciting, challenging and rewarding to lead high growth. Congratulations.

    • Matt Blumberg

      Yes – all of those things!

  • RichardF

    Too many skip-level checkin's can seriously undermine your direct reports. I guess it depends on what you are actively listening too but from observation when I've seen a CEO do this too much it becomes devisive as the junior staff use it as a means of skipping their ine manager.

    It's definitely a downside of a quickly scaling organisation and one that seems to happen quite alot in VC backed companies.

    • Matt Blumberg

      I'm going to write a post on Skip-Levels soon. I disagree – but only if they're done correctly. Matt

      • Jud Valeski

        curious to read this one.

  • Jud Valeski

    I riffed on this a bit with http://one.valeski.org/2012/04/scaling-me-2.html

    great post Matt.

    • Matt Blumberg

      Cool – will read it later

  • realitycheckmarketing

    Coming at this as someone who's been asked for "honest" feedback from you and other CEOs, this is really tricky. As the junior employee I've found myself balancing my natural instinct to be honest with the importance of being loyal to my manager and making sure any feedback that is not completely positive is delivered in the proper context. It's a balancing act for your employees as well…it's great to know you're thinking about this as hard as they are!

    • Matt Blumberg

      Context is critical, always.  Full stop.  Loyalty to a manager vs. the organization is a tricky issue, but for me, it only has one answer.  The organization and its mission must reign supreme.  If you have a CEO who plays politics and doesn’t represent the organization fairly, you may need to demur.  If you have a CEO who is the steward of the organization and mission above all else, then I’d argue you don’t have a choice.  Nice to hear from you!  J