Most business leaders know that their people are important. What many overlook is that their people management skills can be a lot more impactful than their people’s raw talent.
In fact, practicing good people management is just as important—if not more so—than having good people.
But what is people management, and why is it so important?
In this article, we answer these questions and move on to talk about why and how business leaders should be invested in their company’s people management performance. We also offer some tips for how to practice good people management in a remote working environment.
What Is People Management?
On the face of it, people management (as its name suggests) is about managing people in the workplace: making sure they are provided for and have everything they need to get their jobs done.
But people management is about much more than this. At its heart, it’s about paying attention to and caring for employees. This could mean looking after their wellbeing, compassionately helping them overcome stumbling blocks, or inspiring them to do their best work and strive to meet their personal and professional development goals.
People management includes formal, procedural duties such as hiring, training, evaluating, and disciplining employees—at least, these tasks are what come to mind when most people think of people management.
Yet this key role also includes a range of more care-based responsibilities that are often overlooked, such as:
- Ensuring that employees are getting the compensation they deserve
- Making sure each employee and team has the resources they need to do what is expected of them (including having enough time to do what they are asked to, or enough team members with whom to share a workload)
- Ensuring that employees have the wellness resources they need to feel safe and happy at work (including, for example, listening and compassion from their manager when they are struggling)
- Helping mediate and resolve conflicts between employees or on a team, or better still, cultivating a communicative and cooperative environment that doesn’t breed conflict
- Going beyond workplace training to help employees develop the confidence and enthusiasm they need to realise their potential
- Helping employees overcome challenges that hamper their job performance
...and the list goes on.
Ultimately, people managers need to be constantly aware of the vital impact of their role.
Consider how even an “ideal” hire can be disengaged and unproductive without strong management, while someone who may not be the best fit for their role can develop new skills and do a good job if they have a great manager.
Why Should Company Leaders Care about People Management?
In short, business leaders should care about people management skills in their organisations because they can make or break a company.
Bad people management can decrease productivity, disengage employees, and stifle innovation in an organisation. The potential effects of subpar people management skills include:
- Low productivity due to disorganisation or poor optimisation of resources
- Workflow errors because of poor communication
- Employees and teams being ill-equipped to deal with challenges
- Unresolved or ongoing conflict between employees
- High employee turnover rates
- Lack of professional development among employees
- Lack of knowledge and idea-sharing within the organisation.
Good people management, on the other hand, can optimise productivity, engage employees, and develop a culture of innovation which can carry an organisation to the top of its field. Potential effects of great people management skills include:
- High productivity
- Great communication
- Employees taking challenges in their stride
- Strong collaboration and cooperation between team members
- Low employee turnover rates
- Ongoing professional development among employees
- A culture of free thinking and idea sharing that helps the organisation innovate.
To achieve these outcomes, a good people manager must:
- Make sure each employee understands their role and responsibilities
- Ensure that the company’s expectations of each employee are aligned with the resources (including time) they have to fulfil this expectation
- Communicate clearly with their employees, listen to their feedback, and encourage their people to do the same with their fellow team members
- Help their employees problem-solve and overcome challenges (this includes making sure people aren’t scared to admit when they have made a mistake)
- Forestall and manage conflict between team members
- Oversee employees' professional development in the workplace
- Facilitate knowledge-sharing and brainstorming within a team by making sure people feel free to share their ideas.
People managers are a vital resource in any organisation. A business can have state-of-the-art resources and pull the top talent, and still devolve into chaos (or at least not come close to its performance potential) without the kind of management people need.
With the right people management skills, however, an under-resourced organisation with a modest talent pool can produce strong work and develop into a successful company.
How to Improve People Management in Your Organisation
People management is complex and the right people management will vary from company to company. Here are some broad tips for cultivating good people management in your organisation.
Nurture a Learning Culture
Embedding continuous learning into your organisation’s day-to-day processes can do wonders for its people management—or at least set it on a path of constant improvement.
For another, implementing learning structures like career development plans, regular workplace training, and team knowledge-sharing rituals can help acquaint managers with their people’s goals, strengths, and weaknesses. This provides valuable context for understanding and motivating them.
Importantly, a key element of any learning culture is embracing setbacks and mistakes as a necessary part of a positive learning process. This attitude helps people feel safe and build trust in approaching their managers for help correcting a mistake or overcoming a setback.
Practice Constant Feedback
Feedback keeps an organisation running smoothly, but it needs to go both ways: from managers to their people and vice versa. After all, nobody can fix a problem without knowing it exists.
However, freely giving and listening to feedback doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and so it needs to be constantly encouraged. This goes beyond 360 reviews and one-to-ones. A good idea is to consciously build feedback into everyday processes like internal meetings, for example by putting five minutes of open feedback onto every agenda.
To make sure feedback doesn’t grind people down or artificially buoy them up, it’s important to strive for radical candour: that delicate balance between feedback that is honest and constructive, while compassionate enough to be encouraging.
Consider the Value of Laissez-Faire Leadership
Laissez-faire or “let it be” leadership is a style of leading that doesn’t apply to every situation, but reflecting on its value can provide important insight into people management. Laissez-faire leadership is built around trusting people to do what they need to do, without their manager getting too involved.
Ultimately, a good people manager should try to make sure each employee in their care has the resources and professional support structure they need to produce their best work, and empower them to reach their potential—but they should also trust each employee and respect their individual contributions.
Examples of laissez-faire leadership in action are a strong reminder that people management is not about controlling or micromanaging people, but about helping them when they need support, and encouraging them to be self-motivated.
Remote People Management Tips
Of course, being a good people manager is no mean feat on a good day, but now people managers everywhere have the added challenge of remote working to contend with.
Remote people management is tricky because it strips away so much of the incidental communication that people management runs on. Here are a few tips for improving your people management while working from home.
Workplace communication gets confusing very quickly when you’re relying entirely on a confusing mass of digital communication feeds and can’t simply look up from your desk to ask a coworker for a quick clarification in real-time.
To make sure everyone knows what’s what (and is reassured that they’re doing well under the circumstances), don’t hesitate to overcommunicate during this time.
Consider scheduling regular video chat check-ins with each employee to monitor how they’re coping.
Most importantly, set clear “rules of engagement” for communicating. Digital communications without in-person support can be confusing, so give each employee guidelines about what information to communicate, how often, and via what channel.
Be More Flexible than Usual
By now we are all aware of the added challenges most people face when trying to get their job done in their home environment—especially during a global pandemic.
Even though we’ve had a long time to get used to it, make sure to keep in mind that almost nobody is working under ideal circumstances at the moment. Take this into account when managing expectations and tackling problems.
Give People Resources
Most home workers lack the resources they need that they normally get from an office environment. This could take the form of office technology, or designated time and space for uninterrupted working.
Reach out to your people to find out what they need to make working from home more comfortable, and do what you can to provide these resources for them.
At face value, people management is the “simple” practice of managing people and making sure they have what they need to do their work.
But people management is so much more than this: it’s the fuel that drives productivity, engagement, and innovation, and it can make or break a company.
Good people management relies on strong communication (especially feedback), a culture of embracing problem-solving as a learning experience, and trusting people to do great work.
Remote people management is difficult, but not impossible. People managers need to make an effort to communicate and be as flexible as possible and do everything they can to support their employees during this challenging time.