Part-time doesn’t cut it

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.

Part-time-manager

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.

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.

Full-time-manager

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.

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