Great management is a thing of beauty. In fact, we believe it's one of the most overlooked points of leverage in this world.
Think back to the teacher who had the most impact on you as a child. Perhaps they coaxed you out of your shell and provided you with a safe place to play and grow. Or maybe they cared enough to give you critical feedback that made you sit up, listen, and change your behavior. It's safe to say you'll never forget them; they changed your life.
Great managers are unfortunately a somewhat rarer breed, but if you’ve ever had one, you’ll feel the same way about them. Your manager can have a significant impact on your life, both positively and negatively. They can change the way you look at the world, coach you to overcome obstacles, and hold up a mirror so you can learn more about yourself. Conversely, bad managers can make you hate your job and then often, by proxy, everything else.
Our goal is to set a new standard for great management—and to help as many people as possible to get there.
Who are we?
This book was written by the team at Clearbit, a tech company based in San Francisco. We were founded in 2014 with the intention of providing a vehicle for self-growth for all who work here. In mid-2018, our small, hyperefficient team of 30 hit an inflection point. The company began to scale quickly, and we effectively tripled our team in about a year.
We saw effective management as a way of maintaining our company culture, values, and employee happiness during this period of extreme growth. We received a lot of coaching and help, and we were lucky enough to work with teachers like The Conscious Leadership Group and Matt Mochary. We also learned a lot the hard way.
Today, our original leadership team is still in place after five years, and only a handful of employees have moved on. We score an average of 8.7 out of 10 when we anonymously survey our employees' happiness (1 being about to quit, and 10 being extremely happy and jumping with joy), and our employee attrition is incredibly low. We attribute this to our approach to management.
Why did we write this handbook?
This handbook represents the best of our collective knowledge of management. We wrote it as part of the internal management training program at Clearbit, with the goal of developing world-class managers. When we realized that other organizations would probably find it useful too, we decided to publish it.
But we can't take credit for this book. It contains no new ideas. We’ve simply curated them from teachers and writers who have influenced us. We’ve included links to their work throughout, and in some cases we’ve reprinted articles in full within chapters or in the Appendix.
You'll notice this handbook is very specific to managing at Clearbit. This is intentional; we felt that generalizing the contents would only serve to water down the message. Not all the tactics we outline are transferable to every company, but perhaps this handbook will influence your organization's own approach to management.
Management requires wearing many different hats. Some days you're the recruiter, some days the coach, some days the conflict resolver, and some days the tiebreaker. If you can become great at all these things, then the score will take care of itself. Your team will perform, and you will feel a lot of satisfaction from watching them fly.
This handbook is a living compendium of the things we believe are required to be a great manager. We hope you find it useful on your journey.
Congrats! You’ve been promoted to manager…
You've made it! Or at least that's the common perception in our society. When you head home for the winter holidays, your relatives might still not understand what you do, but at least they'll be impressed that you've got some people “working for you.”
So why is that? Why does society place such a value on management? It comes down to power and compensation. Management is associated with calling the shots and, quite often, a higher salary.
These aren't great reasons to become a manager, though. Once you've been doing it for a while, you'll realize that the best managers let their team make the decisions. Sure, they act as a tiebreaker every now and again, but their team should be driving things. That's certainly the way we do things at Clearbit.
It's not a promotion, it's a career change
Associating management with higher compensation is a classic trap companies fall into. It changes all the incentives for individual contributors (ICs) who want to further their careers. Now, rather than doubling down on their strengths, they reluctantly move “upward” into management to gain a promotion. What can happen next is you end up losing a great IC and gaining a mediocre manager. Not good!
At Clearbit, there is no such thing as a “promotion” into management. It's a distinct career change. And like any other profession, management requires years of training and practice to get good at it.
You'll notice this is reflected across our compensation structure. We have two parallel tracks for individual contributors and managers, with clear levels and goals. It's quite possible that the ICs on your team are making more money than you; that design is intentional.
What does it mean to be a manager at Clearbit?
Technically speaking, the role of the manager is to drive output by organizing and facilitating people and processes to accomplish a goal.
However, that's such a dry way of looking at the subject. Management is an art, precisely because we humans are such complex creatures. At its heart, management is an act of service. Great managers coach, teach, and inspire their team to become the best versions of themselves.
Management is not for everyone. If you don't thrive on solving people problems, then it's probably not for you. And that's completely fine; being an individual contributor is just as valuable as being a manager.
So why become a manager? There are two main reasons:
- Finding joy in the leverage of a high-performing team. If you're doing a good job as a manager, then your team will perform well and achieve things much greater than you alone could accomplish. There's something quite beautiful about a well-functioning team.
- Finding joy in your team's personal growth. Helping individuals on your team find their zone of genius, coaching them, and watching them grow into their full potential—these are all highly rewarding things to be a part of.
As a manager, you now have a responsibility to improve people's lives, career growth, and general happiness. You can have a big impact on how their lives pan out, for better or worse. Great managers realize the importance of the role they play but are humble enough to bask only in their team's success.
The paradox of management
The paradox of management is this: the attitude that got you to that position isn’t the attitude that will make you successful at it. In fact, the opposite is true. If you try to manage people in the same way as you produced work as an individual contributor, you will fail.
What made you successful as an IC? Probably some combination of hard work and domain expertise. So, when you encounter problems as a freshly minted manager, it can be all too easy to put your IC hat back on and fix them yourself. At Clearbit, we call this “heroing.” Sometimes it's necessary, but it's always unsustainable in the long term.
You have to switch focus from yourself to others because you’re no longer measured on your output. It’s now about the output of your organization.
Mia Blume delves into this topic in So You’ve Been Promoted: Five Mental Shifts for New Managers.
How management is different from leadership
The terms “management” and “leadership” are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct things. In short, management is tactical and leadership is strategic.
Management requires dealing with the day-to-day realities of hiring and aligning people, such as one-on-ones, performance reviews, planning meetings, goal check-ins, etc. Leadership means looking forward, compounding value, connecting dots, taking cues from outside the organization, and talking to customers to come up with a vision that you can communicate to the rest of the company.
Almost every management position involves some degree of leadership. As you rise through the organization, the management-leadership time allocation ratio changes in favor of leadership. Senior executives are mostly responsible for managing themselves and hitting their targets, while CEOs are mostly responsible for being leaders. This doesn't mean that leadership is more valuable than management; both functions are critical.
Keith Rabois has written an excellent piece on what it means to be a leader: What does it mean to be an executive?
Why you’ll likely fail to scale as a manager
A startup is defined as a small company that scales with unnaturally high growth. As the company expands, it requires different types of talent, and it's an all-too-common occurrence for the company's growth rate to outstrip yours. When that happens, you can get “leveled”: a senior manager with more experience is recruited above you.
This can be bruising to the ego, but quite honestly, it shouldn't be. Practically no one is capable of consistently scaling themselves at these speeds. Rather than taking it personally, you should realize this isn't a zero sum game. Adding some new amazing VP above you will only give you more opportunities to grow, lift us all up, and expand the pie.
There is only one way to delay or avoid being leveled, and that is through self-growth. It requires deep introspection, which means being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback, and being committed to improving. This can be painful, and since our natural instinct is to avoid pain, you can put caps on your self-growth … which results in being leveled.
This all might sound like a lot to take on, and it is! Being someone's manager is a big responsibility and it's important to get it right. However, remember that every great manager you admire once started out right where you are: as an individual contributor who moved into management. With training, practice, and the right attitude, you will get there. And Clearbit will be alongside you, supporting you every step of the way.
Let’s highlight the skills necessary to be a great manager before digging into each one in more detail throughout the rest of the handbook.
As they say on planes, you should affix your own mask before helping others. The same goes for management. You need to be healthy, present, and emotionally stable before you can support others.
In Chapter 1, we’ll delve into how best to manage your time (your most precious resource), how to create work-life harmony to ensure that you are mentally and physically fit, and how to take radical responsibility for your own life and happiness.
Hiring and onboarding
Every manager at Clearbit is responsible for building out their team. This means that every manager also needs to be a world-class recruiter, from sourcing to evaluating and closing candidates. In Chapter 2, we’ll discuss how we approach this.
Coaching and feedback
When it comes to working with individuals, we prefer to think of managers as coaches. Great coaches help their trainees grow into the best versions of themselves by holding them accountable, giving them critical feedback, and supporting them through challenges.
In Chapter 3, we’ll explore coaching and feedback. We’ll look at how to run an effective one-on-one, how to give and receive feedback, and how to create accountability.
Working as a team
Effective collaboration involves running useful meetings and making good decisions. It also involves people trusting each other, especially around keeping their commitments.
In Chapter 4 we explore how impeccable agreements work, the different types of decision making, and how to collaborate remotely.
Creating and achieving goals
Once you have the right team in place, it's your responsibility to align goals with your team's strengths so people are operating in their zone of genius. Creativity is not an assembly line. Great managers set goals, not tasks. They have a macro-managing approach where they determine the direction, but their team drives how they get there.
In Chapter 5, we’ll talk about how to set goals, get buy-in, and delegate effectively.
When left unchecked, information sharing decays at an exponential rate to the size of your organization. It’s one of the hardest parts of rapidly scaling a company.
There are a number of tactics to effectively spread information and slow down the rate of dissipation, and Chapter 6 will delve into them.
Conflicts inevitably arise whenever people work together. The key is to address them head-on with conflict resolution.
Chapter 7 will present a tried and tested structure for conflict resolution through clearing conversations. You'll learn how to make people feel heard and how to navigate the Drama Triangle.
A good culture boils down to trust between people. While culture fermentation is more of an art than a science, we've found a number of tactics that help people bond and trust each other. Chapter 8 will elaborate on this.
The last step to becoming a world-class manager is becoming aware of your internal state, and adopting a mindset of abundance, fun and playful curiosity enabling you and your team to persevere through solving hard problems together.
In Chapter 9 we'll explore what those values mean and how to encourage them in your team.