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Guide to be a Good People Manager

What is a People Manager?

People managers have a more specialized role in companies.  They are tasked with working directly with employees to assist them in their career growth. As businesses have evolved and transformed through the 20th and 21st centuries, the role of a manager has morphed and become more focused as-well.  Not only are managers central to the completion of their team’s core responsibilities, but they must juggle the human aspect of their respective employees.

The question of what a people manager is, is a little bit more complex to answer, but can be closely defined as a manager more focused on the management of their individual employees and their growth within the company and their careers. A people manager may not be solely focused on employee management and growth but can have that responsibility as one of their central tenants to their own job.

So, what’s the point of a people manager?

And that’s an excellent question.

The thing is, as industries have grown more complex and globalization has increased within the past twenty years, many companies found that employees were key to their own growth. If the company could, in some way, increase an individual employees’ productivity, loyalty, and participation, then they would reap those benefits over the long term. However, central to increasing an individual employees’ productivity is a manager who can work directly with them.  This manager needs to be extremely versatile as no two employees are alike.

The people manager must be versatile, understanding, tough when needed, yet rewarding and optimistic.  They must be transparent on goals and career trajectory and must be an advocate for the employee. Having these qualities builds loyalty, almost extreme loyalty wherein employees will volunteer for additional work just to impress their manager.

People managers must also be great leaders.  They must inspire their teams no matter the situation.

What’s in it for the company?

The company needs highly qualified, highly skilled, loyal employees who are going to make a lasting impact.  By having people managers, who can maneuver corporate environments and lift their employees, they can sustain both incoming workloads and future endeavors.

Are there any pitfalls?

And that’s the question many companies fail to ask themselves and that I have snuck around.  The employees, it turns out, aren’t loyal to the company but to the manager. A perfect people manager will be able to get the productivity and enthusiasm out of their team, but the team isn’t going to greater lengths for a company they may not feel truly understands them.

Rather, they will provide the productivity, the enthusiasm, and the loyalty to the manager. So, a company needs to be extremely careful with their managers.  They need to provide them with the resources and tools they need to succeed, but even more important, they need to listen to their managers.

If they listen to their managers and take into account their recommendations and needs, they will have a top-down level of loyalty which can sustain a company for years to come.

5 Things Great People Managers Are Doing

We’ve previously discussed what a people manager is and briefly discussed how they are leading to inspire their team and build loyalty. While a lot of the skills needed to be a people manager come innately to some, it’s always good to have a read-up of what other successful people managers are doing on a daily basis to inspire their teams.

The below list of what great people managers are doing was collected via an anonymous survey, sent out to managers across differing industries, which asked them to rate the effectiveness of certain items. From the total list, we whittled it down to the top five.

Remember Everything

This one sounds a bit ominous. But when speaking with some of the best people managers, what came across in each one was that they remember everything their team tells them or that they hear through office gossip.

This isn’t to say that they’re being sneaky or looking to be part of office gossip, but rather that they take an interest in their employees and the lives they live.

One manager told me that he has a calendar dedicated to employee milestones.  Every birthday, wedding, anniversary, and breakup just so he is fully prepared when coming into the office that day.

Another manager told me that he has a dedicated notepad for each employee, where he writes out their career goals on the top of each page to keep himself honest and working towards that.

As a people manager, you need to remember the exact details that are given to you by your employees.  You need to listen more than you talk and write down detailed notes so that you can follow-up on their concerns and ensure they’re fully addressed.

I spoke to another manager, who had over 15 years of experience in her field, who told me that her first course of action every morning when she got into the office was to email each employee of hers individually, letting them know where certain concerns stood and what progress was being made.

This was a separate email that she felt made the employees feel understood and taken care of.

Care, Genuinely

A people manager, above all else, is someone who cares about their team and the individual employees whom make up those teams. But this isn’t just a surface level of caring.  This is genuine, deep caring, concern, and pride in each individual and their careers and personal lives. You should not, and honestly cannot, fake this emotion.

A great people manager has an innate level of caring for their employees and that care is so imbued in their personality that it is felt across all departments. By truly caring about your employees and their overall wellbeing, you take a stake in their future and help them to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Be Transparent

I had a close friend who was phenomenal at their job.  She arrived early, left late, and handled the work of nearly three other employees singlehandedly. She was proud of her work and ensured that every task and project assigned to her was completed to perfection.

This didn’t go unnoticed across the company and her manager was sure to tell her and to reiterate often how valuable her contributions were.

She had a conversation with her manager regarding her career trajectory, where she indicated that she wanted to be promoted to a senior analyst.  Her manager promised her that within three months, the promotion would be given.

Nearly nine months later, with no promotion in sight, she quit without another job lined up.  When I spoke to her about it, she told me in no uncertain terms that she had felt lied to and couldn’t continue working with someone who could lie to her so brazenly.

The lesson here is that transparency can easily make or break a team.  Had her manager given her frequent updates regarding the promotion process, where she stood, and what the expectations were, then perhaps things could have occurred differently.

A good people manager needs to be transparent, to a point.  But when it comes to an employee’s concern or a promise made, you must provide frequent and consistent follow-ups, so they don’t feel ignored and forgotten about.

In addition, a good people manager takes initiative.  They go above-and-beyond to show their employees that they are on their side and are fighting for their needs.

Set Realistic Goals

Perhaps the single worst thing a manager can do is set, or allow to be set, unrealistic goals.  From a career perspective, setting unrealistic goals only sets individuals up for failure.

Being a good manager means being able to have difficult conversations on what is and isn’t capable.

An employee who wants to work towards a goal that is highly unrealistic needs to be guided towards a more attainable goal.  BUT, that attainable goal can and should be a step towards their currently unrealistic goal.

Just because an employee does not have what it takes to achieve a goal right now, does not mean they won’t in just a couple of short years.

As a people manager, it is your job to let the employee know what a realistic goal is and how you are going to work with them to achieve their end goal.

In fact, with my own employees, I like and encourage them to have “stretch” goals, that is, goals which probably won’t be reached this year, but should be attempted and worked towards.

Remember, We’re All Human

The single biggest differentiating factor between managers, good people managers, great people managers, and people managers who have the unwavering loyalty of their team, is that the best people managers are the ones who know and remember that their employees are human.

They remember that mistakes happen and sometimes happen often.  But rather than criticize mistakes, they find solutions to ensure the mistake doesn’t occur again.

They empower their team to be in control of their lives and trust them with the work designated to them.

The managers who have unwavering loyalty are the ones who give it to their employees.  They are the ones who defend their employees and give credit where credit is due and have a scorch-earth policy if anyone criticizes their team.

Their employees don’t feel belittled nor do they feel constantly monitored.  They feel responsible for themselves and look to prove themselves out of their own volition.

The best employees aren’t the ones who get every ounce of productivity squeezed out of them, but they are the ones who freely flow their full potential because they’re happy.

Make your employees happy and they will return the feeling tenfold.

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