Operating Ranges

Today I listened to the Bob Metcalfe episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast.  It’s a nice, wide-ranging conversation that covers some essential history of the Internet and some  thoughts on the management of companies that, for me, are keepers.

For example, Metcalfe talks about how employees’ “operating ranges” can be exposed by the rapid growth of companies.  According to Metcalfe, “The company can grow more rapidly than the people, and so you have to pay attention to which people are being left behind by your accelerating company . . . and, in some cases, you need to shift gears.”

Shifting gears, in Metcalfe’s world, often means either removing someone from the company or reassigning them.  He brings an engineer’s logic to the matter:  “If you look at different sizes of companies, [you see that] people have skills related to size, scale.”  Some people are very good at working at the level of startup chaos, where much is uncertain.  Some people are better at working in an established company that is already generating millions of dollars per month.  It’s a manager’s job to fit skills to scales and to understand what is needed as positions level up.  Or, again in Metcalfe’s words, “When you’re an engineer, you build things.  When you’re an engineering manager, you manage people who build things.  And when you’re a manager of managers, that’s a different task.”

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