As an organization reaches certain scale, it is inevitable, at least due to the current limitation set by human interaction mechanisms (e.g. verbal communication, synchronous meetings, groups, hierarchies, physically independent) that there is a certain level of structure that needs to be put in place to manage the organization.
There is a few frameworks that can be useful when scaling the leadership. It’s local applications of the general management frameworks, so let’s explore how they can be relevant to scaling leadership.
1. Convergence <> Divergence framework
This framework demonstrates how to navigate within the horizontal layer (x-axis) of management.
As your organization scales, one thing you constantly run into is the overall increase in diversity within the organization. The proportion of diversity may increase or decrease, but the absolute number of diverse entity (in this case, employees) will simply increase as your headcount grows.
So as a leader, one needs to understand to what extent she need to design policies, processes, and structures to cover the diverged cases of people. Policy and process inherently becomes a forcing function to increase orderliness, to decrease divergence and converge people towards a certain way of doing things.
Mission statements, core values, organizational policies, systems, and processes are known ways to bring order to chaos. Why companies have onboarding programs, conduct interviews, have certain cultures and “corporate ways” are methodologies to increase convergence in the organizations.
The important capability is finding and tweaking the right balance of convergence and divergence in a system (in this case, a company). As the saying goes, you cannot make everyone happy — not because of your lack of intellect or empathy, but simply due to conflicting nature of diverse entities.
When someone says “diversity” is always and inherently good, it’s simply not true. As it’s common and time-tested knowledge within network science, biology, and physics, increase in divergence leads to increase in entropy and chaos (disorderliness), which above a certain threshold, can create disruption to any organized form of group, system, or structure, based on the system’s resilience, rigidity, network relationship, and so forth.
To find a global optimum, some amount of chaos and perturbation can indeed be a good thing, but too much of such can also disrupt any accumulation of systematic value, so as your organization scales, you as a leader need to continue to find and tweak the right balance of convergence and divergence within your organization.
Given that human elements are involved in organizations, the complexity of the management of such can introduce major difficulties as there exists a complex network of feedback loops, so finding the balance will continue to become a moving target at any given point in time. As in any non-linear systems, this can be hard to predict, and becomes more of an art of management (in other words, hard to reduce into repeatable practices with acceptable amount of certainty).
2. Abstraction <> Reduction(Concretization) framework
As your organization scales, due to limitations in the way human interactions and communications scale, the company will introduce “layers” of management. The layers of management can simply be understood as navigating vertically (y-axis) through abstraction layers.
Just as electrical engineering (EE) helped create an abstraction layer, removing (hiding and dealing with) physical constraints at the electrical and electronic level, allowing computer science to work (almost) freely on top of the frameworks built by EE, CS can create (almost) unlimited value by imagination (computer games, anyone?). In B2B industry, API and SDK companies can provide similar layer of abstractions for other tech companies to freely build robust and sophisticated software (almost) without having to worry about what’s happening underneath the hood. These layers of abstractions in organizational management allow the leaders to continue to scale their impact and operations at an increasingly higher-level, (ideally) without loss of effectiveness.
To give a real-life example, a sales leader at an enterprise software company may have a few layers of abstraction as the leader and the organization scales:
- 0-1(or 3)M sales leader: Can typically sell well, navigating and selling in uncertain situations with half-baked product, be able to build some level of sales process and knowledge. Hustles and runs around doing whatever possible to get the sales engine up and running. Sometimes jack of all trades when it comes to selling.
- 1-10(or 30)M sales leader: More of a sales manager, can coach individual reps to sell well, while still rolling up the sleeves on deals and can close them herself. Can train and scale 10-20 reps if not more. Plans and executes training and sales capacity management of quota carrying reps. Have sales enablement for individual reps and operational analytics of sales numbers.
- 10M-50 (or 100)M sales leader: An abstraction above a sales manager, more like a regional and country sales manager. At this point, the sales leader thinks about not only sales enablement and training of individual reps, highly data-driven with multiple approaches to forecasting, continues to tweak the process and plans specialization, while being able to think and plan at a strategic-level in terms of the next year’s capacity and go-to-market strategy. Works with marketing to drive more sales.
- 50M-x00M sales leader: This is a layer above the regional/country sales leader, who have experience of building and scaling large organizations with hundreds of reps, feels comfortable leading and managing through layers and systems without losing effectiveness, already thinks beyond individual reps and their ramp-up, but thinks of sales enablement/training of sales managers and beyond, is able to forecast and anticipate the need of sales managers and also consider their ramp-up timing, provides feedback back to the product group for features and products, as well as giving enough pressure to marketing team to provide the demand while providing input for building a well-oiled go-to-market engine.
As you can see from this example, as you scale up, the leader will likely loose the full grasp of everyday details, but can still manage effectively through layers of abstraction and systems, and are now managing almost with statistical accuracy influencing through systems, processes, leadership coaching, and strategy, rather than individual coaching and closing one deal at a time.
The interesting aspect is that, while some people may believe they want to go up the abstraction layer of management, actually a lot of people do not enjoy loosing the grasp of the actions or the actual events (e.g. deals) so they pull themself back down a layer to reduction(concretization). When a person remove herself from the concreteness of the progress, it can increase anxiety and feeling of slower progress from lack of immediate and direct control and feedback.
It almost feels like using a very slow and laggy mouse or a computer. What you do may not directly result in the way you want and the response time will be a lot more sluggish. The delay and indirectness of feedback is something that most people do not expect nor enjoy. That’s the difficulty of managing through abstraction layer — the indirectness and delayed gratification (or disappointment).
Hopefully, the above two management frameworks will give some ideas on how to navigate the leadership as the organization scales. Let there be order to chaos.