#fyi: How founders can avoid drive-by-management

Mar 17, 2019 · 4 min read · 9,773 views

Suggestions by founders, managers, or anyone with authority in a startup, might often be misunderstood as directions or decisions. Even if we didn’t intend this to happen.

Example: A team discusses something in Slack and the founder of the company reads this for a second and replies that they like option B. Now option B is the most likely contender.

What if option A was an idea someone thought through in detail, prepared and pitched? What if the project lead knows B is a obvious but wrong idea? What if this project lead just joined the company and doesn’t know the founder well enough to say this was meant as suggestion or strong push and option A has some sort of a longer history in the company?

The founder sharing her thoughts might have caused more harm than help here. Without her even realizing. After all this was just 5 seconds for her.

Here is an article about a feature that [competitor A] just released. Didn’t we also discuss something like this? We should maybe reconsider this feature…

The founder drove by… gave management instructions (without even realizing) and is leaving the team before anyone could properly react. Drive-by management at its worst.

We all know to avoid drive-by management (getting involved without knowing enough and removing authority of project leads) but in the examples above this was completely non-intentional. The founder simply wanted to give feedback or interesting ideas they found. “Well i can’t stop talking to my team…”

The key in avoiding this, is being explicit.

I am sure - whenever you share articles in your team chat - you already add a short line how this is “just an idea” to every message. Maybe you even add full disclaimer paragraphs to those suggestions.

But even these explainers might mean very different things in different cultures.

In remote teams this problem is usally worse. A Calfornian might have “just an idea” which is actually a “very polite” (read: direct) push. But for a german person “just an idea” might be something the other person didn’t even put longer thought in. [All examples are fictious and have no historical background in the life of the germanic author living in California]

So what to do?

There is a useful method for this

The concept is developed by Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot and used by a few teams.

I got to know it via Wade of Zapier.

The core idea is the following: The team (or founder) establishes a specific code internally. Each keyword has a particular meaning, it is explained in their team-internal wiki. There it is evident to everyone what each of those statements means. And also every other manager or team member can pick this code up as well if they want.

Here is Wade in his own words about the keywords they use:

#fyi: something interesting. An article and podcast, etc. I thought you might like it. But if not no worries. Nothing to see here.

#suggestion: a passing thought. I sometimes have good ideas. You might like to hear good ideas. If I’m in your shoes, i consider it. but I’m not in your shoes so do what you’d like. A friendly response if you don’t go with the suggestion is nice, so i make better suggestions over time, but is by no means necessary.

#recommendation: I’ve thought a lot about this. Perhaps even lost sleep. I’ve invested deeply. I think this is a good plan. You can still disagree and go a different direction, but walking me through why you are doing this is kindly requested.

#plea: We don’t have a lot of mandates at Zapier, but this is one. Please do this. If you disagree enough that you can’t go along with it, we should both reconsider our roles here. It’s that important.

i use #fyi and #suggestions all the time. #recommendation much less so. and #plea is almost entirely unused.

Establishing an explicit code around this might enable you to be more precise with the reaction you hope for and it might become a habit internally that also other people can pick up.

Example #fyi: i found this article about how founders can avoid drive-by management.

As always - if i can help feel free to DM me questions me on twitter.