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Manager Titles are Lies! How do you find the right manager for your role?

Official titles usually make sense internally (you'd hope!) but figuring out how they translate to what you need to hire for is hard. A director at Google, is different than a director at Goldman Sachs is different than the Director at a Series B company.

When hiring for a new management position or leader there are three core dimensions you need to understand first in order to find the right pool of candidates:

1) Management Level

2) Functional Experience

3) Scale

Titles don't actually tell you a whole lot about these dimensions. You need to go deeper and understand exactly what type of experience you need for your management hire. Here are the levels that a manager can have:

Management Levels

The management level tells us what types of management skills the candidate will have.  As you can see below, titles bleed between levels, this is due to the intrinsic management needs typical of a function given the scale they have operated in.  For instance, a VP of Marketing may still be a People Manager even at Midmarket scale, whereas a VP of Sales will likely have at least Team Management experience at the same scale given that the Sales team will almost always grow faster in terms of headcount than the Marketing function. A larger team means different level of skill required as a manager. Both leaders may need to think about their function at the same strategic level but the VP of Sales will need to tackle different and more complicated people matters as they have more folks on their team.

1) Organizational Leader

This is the C-level, usually. This means that the candidate has experience leading and hiring for an entire, cross-functional organization at the vision and mission level. Organizational Leaders have had to hire other senior leaders, report to the board of directors, raise funds or otherwise manage runway and investment and set the overall vision for what the organization is driving towards and the mission for the company. Common titles are CEO, COO, President, General Manager, and Managing Director.

2) Executive Leader

The Executive Leader has owned complete operational responsibility for at least one large, complex function. The Executive Leader must have deep enough experience in their function to hire and fully manage the complete function and sometimes adjacent functions. True executive leaders have operated at sufficient scale to have managed complete sets of teams, often doing materially different work, in order to achieve functional objectives. Common titles are COO, CMO, CRO, SVP, General Manager, and VP.

3) Manager of Teams

A Manager of Teams has had to manage multiple teams and at least one layer of managers in a specific discipline or in a set of tightly related teams within one function. Manager of Teams may be compensated based on success of the teams they manage or otherwise have tightly attuned goals for effectively managing their teams to specific outcomes. Common titles are Director, Head, Global Leader and sometimes VP.

4) People Manager

People Managers directly manage individual contributors towards specific goals. People Managers are typically rewarded for their team's success. Common titles are Director, Manager, Head, Global Leader and sometimes VP.

5) Lead

A Lead has informal management responsibilities, but is not directly responsible for hiring decisions, performance reviews or people management and they have individual goals in addition to their lead responsibilities. Typically a Lead will have strong experience in their area of expertise and providing coaching and leadership towards execution of the broader team. Lead roles are feeders into People Management, but lack the accountability for team outcomes that a manager has. Typical titles are Senior, Team Lead and Manager (usually with the Manager title at the end like in Sales Manager vs Manager of Sales).

Functional Expertise

Each function will have it's own nuances with regards to the type of manager you will need to hire. Functional expertise also has some domain specificity in the qualification, such as in marketing, B2C vs B2B. Depending on the domain (type of business / sector) certain functions will be materially different. Moreover, at sub-scale, you may need to find leaders with expertise in multiple functions whereas at larger scale you will need leaders who are deeper in one function having managed more complicated, but focused mandates.

You need to understand the complete functional expertise the leader will need for at least the next 24 months.

Scale

Like with the function, size of company greatly determines the type of leader you are actually looking for. Being a VP of Product at 100 person company will look very different than a VP of Product at a public company. Same title, very different people management responsibilities and organizational complexity.

Before you start hiring, you need to be realistic about what the size of the overall company will be in the next 24 months.

So what?

When you are hiring a leader, you will want to have a perspective on how large your company will be in the next 24 months. Ideally, you will want to over-hire today so that the person you bring in can manage the function for at least a couple years into the future. Simultaneously, you don't want to hire someone coming exclusively from backgrounds much larger than where you will be in 24 months, as those folks may not be able to handle the in the weeds problems of today.  First, ask yourself where you expect the company to be in terms of size in 24 months and look for candidates coming from companies of that size, even if they don't have the title you are hiring for yet.

Next, limit your pool to candidates that have the right functional expertise. At sub-scale, your leader may have to manage a few functions that are not directly related. Make sure that the definition of the role makes sense, such that there are candidates in the market with the expertise to effectively manage the functions, and then focus on those candidates.

Finally, gut check the level of management experience you need. How big is the team today? How big will it be in 24 months? Do you actually need an Executive Leader or are you really looking for a Team Manager or People Manager? Be realistic and focused on the actual management experience you are expecting them to bring and make sure that it will scale to 24 months in the future. Interview for those specific skills, and don't get hung up if they are missing things that they wont realistically need even as the team grows.

Most startups need to hire Team Managers and People Managers.  Rarely will they need to hire Executive Leaders or Organizational Leaders until product market fit is well established and large scale is highly likely (basically, having visibility to being a public company within 24 months).

These are not the only dimensions that you need to view your hires through. Domain experience may be a premium at some organizations more than others and values and team fit are incredibly important. Those pieces are up to you to define and interview for. But at a minimum, every management hire should first be viewed at in terms of Functions, Scale and Management Experience. Once you define those, you will be able to clearly identify candidates that are the best fit for you to go after for your role.


Trent Krupp

VP of Operations at Triplebyte. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for Atomic (VC), Credit Sesame and MakerSights. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups Shift.org, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.

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