Management As A Design Challenge


To scale a business, you need the ability to manage teams. But what is the best management system? Why are some managers better than others? And, what’s wrong with simply modeling google’s OKRs or applying Netflix’s Culture to your business?

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Your management style will evolve over time, and you’ll find some styles work better than others depending on the environment (the nature of the industry, the makeup of the team, your own level of experience as a manager, etc.).

There are two basic approaches: managing by design and managing by intervention.

Managing by intervention

Managing by intervention is common, especially among larger companies. This style relies on highly structured environments. It’s all about systems and structured feedback.

An example is situational leadership, which we discussed in our “Wartime CEO” episode. It’s a framework to analyze an employee’s development and apply the right leadership style. I’ve also used Goals Setting & Review, a series of highly structured one-on-one meetings for goal setting.

Especially for companies with inexperienced employees, these systems can accelerate the education curve and minimize failure.

The downside to these systems is twofold: First, these systems are hard to implement. They require time and attention to implement, which gets exhausting over time.

Second, they limit your team over time. If you take a systematic approach to hiring and managing, eventually you’ll end up with a homogenized team that’s neither resilient nor very dynamic.

Managing by design

On the other hand, managing by design allows your team to explore — and capitalize on — the unimagined. This style relies on people and environment, rather than systems and structured feedback.

When you manage by design, you allow failure to happen in order to learn and improve. The manager’s job is to create an environment where employees might succeed and allow things to evolve organically.

This approach requires you to focus on:

  • hiring the right people, 

  • creating the right environment, and

  • giving the right feedback.

Why managing by design?

Managing by design is a better fit for Royalty Exchange because we’re constantly innovating and exploring new ideas. We’re not a widget factory that runs well with a rigid structure. We’re a group of individuals who are constantly learning and adjusting.

This approach requires strong, independent thinkers with innate curiosity who are willing to disagree. Great ideas come out of the creative friction that comes from employees with strong points of view disagreeing.

If you thoughtfully construct an environment where failure is embraced, the results of your team can surprise you. Things happen that you couldn’t imagine before. 

This process also leads to a more resilient company.

Giving feedback

In either approach you pick, giving valuable feedback is critical to success.

With management by intervention, you follow a structured process for providing constant feedback. With management by design, that process is just as important — though it looks different.

With the intervention approach, feedback tends to be artificial. It’s often driven by a key performance indicator (KPI) the company decided on, which may be leading them down the wrong path. With the design approach, you provide feedback differently, looking instead for friction among your team.

Evolving your style

Even if you start with a structured process, that may loosen over time as you and your team gain experience.

There’s a natural transition from a very tight to much looser style. At first you give employees explicit instructions of what needs to happen. Then, over time, it evolves to delegation and you become less involved in the day-to-day. You give employees more of a free rein with some structured feedback along the way.

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Radical Candor by Kim Scott.