Over the last decade or so that I have spent in start-ups, I have seen many instances of part-time managers, both in the companies where I was and elsewhere. I have never ever seen this work out. Quite the opposite, it tends to be a disaster.
It is obvious that at some point a situation will arise in any business where there are so many people in a functional area, that one person has to be appointed to coordinate that group (aka the manager). However, it doesn’t seem to make any sense to appoint a part-time person when there is so much work that multiple people are required to get it done.
Think about it, a manager’s job is to manage the people who are working for this person. By definition this means that multiple people work for one person. Let’s depict this in a diagram.
Looking at it, this doesn’t make sense. If I have enough people to fill full-time roles, why would I appoint a part-timer to manage them?
The real world problems that I have seen arising with part-time managers are:
- Part-time managers are not in the loop, they need to be caught up with events and ‘management’ meeting are de facto catching up sessions;
- Lack of respect of the team as the manager is perceived as not lifting enough weight / working as hard as the team, or not contributing enough;
- Other managers at the same level have issues interacting with the part-timer as they are not in the office in a full-time capacity;
- The manager is not mentally as fully occupied with the company as other people in the company.
People may say: “But Jens, even Steve Jobs managed Apple part-time initially and look at what a great job he did. Clearly one can be a part-time manger and do a fantastic job!” In this situation I find it useful to figure out whether his success is a consequence or a correlation of the part-time role. My reply would be: “Was Steve Jobs so successful BECAUSE he was part-time? Or was he so successful DESPITE being part-time?”
I think the answer to that question is quite obvious. I am confident that there are individuals who are so exceptional they can overcome almost any obstacle. However, most people aren’t as exceptional as Steve Jobs was. The other thing to consider is that Jobs attributed his pancreatic cancer to the time where he was so stressed due to his two CEO jobs.
Being a part-time manger undoubtedly makes your job harder. Much much harder. So, why would a company want that to happen? All things being equal, does this actually make sense?
Part-time managers are not to be confused with individuals working part-time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Again, let’s look at the organogram.
This looks far more logical, doesn’t it? You have a team of individuals, some of whom may be specialists or maybe you don’t have enough work for them to fill a full time role. Great examples of this are part-time accountants who do your books. Or maybe customer service reps, who only work three days a week. Other examples are individuals whom you bring in as and when needed, for example your auditors or lawyers.
So when you are working in the context of a startup trying to not die, why would you make your life harder? Why would you hire a part-time manager? In my experience, this has never worked. I think life in a startup is hard enough; there is really no need to make it any harder.