middle management

Pure Manager vs. Working Manager: Which Do You Need?

by May 14, 2024Advisory Groups

As your company transitions from its early stages to a period of growth, it’s essential to hire or promote individuals into middle management roles. Middle management positions, in particular, are crucial to your business’s success.

But what’s also critical to understand is the kind of manager you need for the job, which can depend on the business size. The critical distinction is that when you’re ready to hire a middle management position, are you hiring someone who is a “pure” manager or a “working” manager?

Failing to understand the difference can lead you toward pain and heartbreak. Let me explain why.

Middle Management Managerial Differences

Someone whom we can describe as a pure manager performs all the classic management tasks: budgeting, planning, administration, and guiding people.

These critical functions can help or hinder a team’s performance. That’s why a good manager creates value for the business. This is especially true in large, complex organizations where the scale of people and processes makes tackling pure management tasks a full-time role.

But if you are running a growing, entrepreneurial venture, a pure manager might not fit your needs well. Instead, you need someone capable of embracing the working manager role.

A working manager tackles the tasks I outlined earlier that a pure manager handles. However, the working manager also has a job to do.

An example would be the VP of sales position. In an entrepreneurial company, this person would not only run the sales funnel and coach the sales team but also have a sales quota of their own. In other words, they would need to get their hands dirty by going out and meeting with clients to land new accounts to help grow the business. A VP of engineering might have a project or two that they lead.

Don’t Be Dazzled

Many entrepreneurial CEOs fall into the trap of hiring pure managers when they really need working managers. This often happens when the CEO gets dazzled by the résumé of a candidate. When they see someone with a degree from an Ivy League school and years of experience working for large, recognizable brands, it can feel like you’re adding a high-powered all-star to your team.

The problem is that most people with this kind of work experience are pure managers. They developed a skill set based on the needs of managing a large organization. But in a growth business, you need every set of hands pulling as hard as possible. You can’t afford to have anyone in a pure management role. Smaller firms need working managers instead.

Setting Expectations

I was working with a client who unfortunately fell into the trap of hiring a sales manager on the basis of their résumé. He was excellent at building processes, managing the budget, and keeping a tight lid on meeting times. He brought some needed professionalism and organization to the sales team.

But the company was still in growth mode and needed everyone on the sales team to sell–including the manager. When the CEO went to the sales manager and asked him to start selling, the manager couldn’t. He couldn’t do that job.

This speaks to the importance of understanding the role you want your managers to play before you begin your hiring process. You need to clarify the kind of work the job entails in the job description.

My client never had that discussion with the sales manager he hired, which ultimately resulted in the sales manager departing the company.

The other tip is that it can be very difficult for someone who has served in a pure management role for any length of time to return to a working management role. Even if they say they can do the job, they have likely forgotten how much time and energy is required to perform a working manager role successfully.

In my experience, you’re better off hiring people from medium-size companies with experience as working managers.

Managing the Future

When you’re looking to hire managers, the last element to remember is to recognize where your company is today and where you think it will go in the future. That matters because as the company grows, the work your managers will do will shift over time. In the early years, for instance, your managers might spend 60 percent of their time on work and 40 percent on admin duties. However, that ratio might flip later as the company evolves, with admin duties taking up more and more of management’s time.

So, the more you understand what your company needs before you start the recruiting and hiring process, the better prepared you will be to make an outstanding hire who will help bring your company to the next level.