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What Does It Take to Be a Good People Manager?

Your employees are one of your company’s biggest assets, and their performance has a major impact on your bottom line. However, simply hiring skilled employees isn’t enough – how your business leaders manage them can greatly impact your company’s overall performance. Managers and business owners need to understand the principles that underlie people management and develop specific skills to become good managers, and to lead their teams and organizations to success. 

What is people management?

People management, a subset of human resource management, is the act of organizing employees and building teams to optimize business performance. Successful people management involves hiring and training the right employees, guiding and empowering each employee to reach their maximum potential, effectively communicating across all teams, and directing all team members toward a common goal.

People management vs. team orchestration

Rather than acting in a dictatorial manner, an effective people manager strives to empower their employees, which can greatly impact a business’s bottom line and company culture.

Shelisa Bainbridge, leadership coach and head of human centered delivery at Agile by Design, recommended reframing people management as team orchestration. This shift in perception can cause managers to focus less on controlling people and more on designing the work environment to lead to successful outcomes for the team and the company.

“When we start thinking about people management in terms of team orchestration, an immediate shift in attitude, value, and impact surfaces in the managers who are responsible for the output of that team,” Bainbridge told business.com.

According to Bainbridge, when a business emphasizes team orchestration, they see the approach and attitude of their managers shift in three major, beneficial ways:

  1. Managers move from focusing too narrowly on the individual level to focusing more holistically on the activities and output of the team as a whole.
  2. They transition from telling and directing employees to supporting, empowering, and encouraging the autonomy of “the team.”
  3. Rather than communicate rigid expectations, managers encourage exploration and experimentation.

Why is people management important?

A poorly managed team can negatively impact multiple aspects of your business; a properly managed team, however, can improve company morale, optimize your production levels and efficiency, and give your company a competitive advantage in the marketplace. 

Company morale

Companies that have low morale and engagement often have high rates of employee turnover and burnout. Implementing optimal people management strategies, however, can give your employees a strong sense of ownership over their work and improve their overall job satisfaction.

“Creating a solid environment in the workplace will lead to happier and more productive employees, and that shows in the quality of output in their work,” said Ramesh Ramani, CEO of digital learning platform ExpertusONE. “Only when a company truly takes care of its people will it become a success.” 

Productivity and efficiency

People management involves organizing your team in a way that increases productivity and optimizes efficiency. When you have the right employees in place, properly train your team, and collaborate with employees to reach their goals, you set your team up for success.

“[Successful people managers] are focused on helping the team align around a common goal and mission, and are able to help the team isolate, prioritize, and focus on high-value work (vs. low- or no-value busy work),” said Bainbridge.

Competitive advantage in the marketplace

Understanding how to orchestrate teams can provide small businesses with an added competitive advantage in the marketplace. According to Bainbridge, since small businesses often lack the budget or market presence as their larger, corporate counterparts, maximizing a smaller pool of resources is crucial – this includes optimizing their human capital and prioritizing team orchestration.

What are people management skills?

There are several qualities an individual should possess to become an effective manager. Joe Mullings, founder and CEO of The Mullings Group, listed integrity, communication, organization, and empowerment as the top four people management skills.

  1. Ethics and integrity: Team members want to know that a leader does the right thing. A great manager is honest, accountable and acts with integrity. Lack of trust in a team is a culture killer.

  2. Clear communication: An effective leader communicates clearly, frequently, and thoughtfully, keeping team members apprised about what is happening in the business. Good managers encourage two-way communication and are receptive to feedback.

  3. Organization and conscientiousness: Well-defined goals, objectives, processes, timelines and “what great looks like” are clearly defined by managers to their teams. Each goal is aligned with the company’s overall mission and vision statement.

  4. Empowerment: Great leaders develop others. Leaders who enable and mentor employees can create high performers and improved retention within companies.

Other people management skills include empathy, patience, achievement recognition, relatability, adaptability, conflict resolution and decisiveness.

How to develop people management skills

Not everyone is a natural-born leader, and that’s OK. People management skills are considered “soft skills” and can be learned and improved upon. There are several easy and organic ways you can enhance your people management skills.

Ask for frequent feedback from your team.

Effective communication in business is a two-way street. Just as you want to provide your team with constructive feedback, you should frequently ask for feedback from your team in return. Ask employees to offer their honest feedback, formally and informally, without fear of retaliation.

Bainbridge said asking for (and embracing) feedback will:

  • Help you to soften your ego 
  • Offer you valuable insight that will promote your growth
  • Make you more likeable, approachable and respected

Find an experienced coach or mentor who can guide you.

Seek out a skilled and experienced coach or mentor who can provide you with unbiased feedback and guidance. They will point out areas where you need growth, offer experienced advice and insight, and accelerate your development. This person can be either within or outside your organization, but your mentor shouldn’t be your direct boss.

Maintain a growth mindset.

Everybody, not just managers, should have a growth mindset. To grow (in business and your personal life), you acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you are willing to learn.

“Having a growth mindset means that you fundamentally believe that everyone has the ability to adapt, learn and grow into a better version of themselves,” said Bainbridge. “This eliminates (or at least controls) the impulse to blame and replaces it with a desire to develop.”

When you have a growth mindset, you set a powerful example for your team. Part of people management is leading by example. 

People management training resources

There are countless online resources to help people managers develop their leadership skills. These resources can include paid and free options like people management books, videos, articles, courses, training calls, and coaching lessons. 

Consider one of the companies below, which offer training courses in people management:

  • Coursera: Coursera is an online learning platform that provides teams and businesses access to online courses and degrees from a variety of universities and companies.
  • edX: edX, an online learning platform, offers a variety of free courses, with the option to pay for add-on certificates.
  • Future Learn: Managers can access courses from Future Learn, including one five-week course on people management.
  • LinkedIn Learning: LinkedIn Learning offers a plethora of business training options, including ones for leadership and management, soft skills, and performance management.

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