It’s hard, as businesses grow, to cross the divide between simple enthusiasm and normal management. Things like time clocks and cost cutting can seem like good ideas – management – but end up as very bad ideas. Buzz killers. And startups thrive on buzz.

Over the long holiday weekend I caught Can a single bottle of soda decimate your company? Absolutely. on VentureBeat. Author Steve Blank nails it as he describes how a growing company shot itself in the foot by cutting off the free drinks and free snacks for the engineers. It made sense to financial management, but sparked an exodus of the best engineers.

But the damage had been done. The most talented and senior engineers looked up from their desks and noticed the company was no longer the one they loved. It had changed. And not in a way they were happy with.

The best engineers quietly put the word out that they were available, and in less than month the best and the brightest began to drift away.

This is an important reminder: a good story, well told. Spreadsheets are great, but you have to look up from the numbers sometimes, to see the whole picture.

But it’s not that simple either. We can all pause for a moment and feel superior to those small-minded bean counters who made that dumb mistake. And then we need to remember that the beans also add up. Somebody has to manage. It’s not like companies don’t go under for lack of financial management too. For every horror story like this one there’s at least one horror story that goes just the opposite way, another company, just as iconic as this one, that didn’t change structure and management style as it grew. And went under because nobody managed the money.

After reading that post, scroll down through the 30 or so comments. For example:

Once I started to work my way up into decision-making, I realized that what the market (i.e. customers) want rarely jives (sic) with the creative vision of engineers. The challenge of managing engineers is gently coaxing them into pivoting from their vision and create something that customers actually want. Not to mention the severe challenge of actually figuring out what the market wants.

And then this one, sort of a response:

You expanded CFO’s and HR types to ALL C-level execs. CFO’s and HR are the most time-sucking, meeting-causing, value-detracting bunch in any company. Even if they worked for free, they would not be worth the hassle.

Gulp. There are no easy algorithms for all of this. It’s all a matter of each specific case. The illustration here is supposed to remind you of nickels and dimes. But they add up.

(Photo credit: Jean Valley/Shutterstock)

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.