Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

It’s mystical, magical and at times maddening! As careers progress, many of us experience people management. Let’s try to break down this elusive skill into bite-sized chunks and see if we can get to the core of it all. This article effectively breaks the skill of people management into four distinct areas of activity.

What Is People Management?

People Management is the practice of achieving results by attracting, developing and retaining employees. People are at the very core of every business and service. How they are managed has and can make or break companies.

History of Hierarchy

Someone’s got to be the boss…or do they? When family farms were the dominant player in the labor force they came with a built-in hierarchy. Parents were the managers and doled out the assignments to the children along with pay in the form of room and board. Frequently the parents worked alongside their children. (This may just be the origin of the true “player-coach” model!)

The shift from an Agrarian economy to the Industrial Age turned that model upside down. Now, teams of people, mostly unrelated strangers, were all positioned to work side-by-side together to produce goods for sale. Productivity became the dominant focus and specialization in manufacturing was born. Now it was the managers who became the ones to dole out the assignments and ensure productivity.

Managing Versus Leading

There are times to manage and times to lead. It has been said that one manages a process and leads people. There are several ways to think about this distinction, but the important point is that both skill sets are part of effective people management.

Why Great People Management Is So Important

People are what drives a company’s future successes as well as failures. Successful people management can bring about the following benefits:

  • Optimize output. Effectively leading people brings out the best performance of individuals.
  • Talent retention. There is always a home for great talent. Great talent will stay with a company as long as they are feeling valued and able to contribute.
  • Profitability. When employees do their best work costly mistakes are avoided, sales teams thrive and work is done efficiently. A healthy bottom line often reflects effective leadership over time.
  • Innovation. A satisfied workforce leads to new ideas, ways of doing things and ways of thinking.

Components of People Management

The best managers are able to establish a connection between their employees and the company’s vision or mission. Once there is a direct line of sight between how someone’s role can contribute to the overall mission, the potential to ignite maximum engagement has been set. People need to see their purpose and how their work contributes to the greater whole in order to be motivated and fulfilled.

People management can be broken into four distinct areas: planning, leading, engaging and measuring. We’ll discuss each of these and how they lead to successful people management in greater detail below.

1. Planning

Have a plan, then execute that plan! Know the end goal and ensure it’s broken down into bite-sized chunks that you can measure on a regular basis. Have defined milestones you and your team can celebrate once you achieve them. Use these milestones as motivational energy boosters for the team. Be prepared to change the plan should business events dictate the need.

2. Leading

Communicate the plan to all members. Remember to consider multiple forms of communication: live meetings, email, intranet postings, website postings or even video snippets.

3. Engaging

Encourage feedback and collaboration both formally and informally. Check in with employees to see how they are doing. Offer and provide support to encourage success on a regular basis. Make opinions count by acting on feedback! Give credit to others as often as possible.

4. Measuring

Have a way to measure what success looks like in every role. Ensure this is evident in not only the job description but also in conversations both formal and informal with the employee.

Skills Every People Manager Should Develop

The most successful people managers focus not only on what work should be done but also on how work should be done. When managing teams there are a few essential skills: emotional intelligence, business acumen, delegation and follow through.

Emotional Intelligence

We all have heard of EQ, but the best managers and leaders practice EI! Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, perceive and control one’s own emotions. The better you manage yourself, the better you will be positioned to manage others. Here are a few tips on how to practice EI on a daily basis when managing people:

  • Ask questions. Take advantage of having diverse sets of viewpoints when managing people. Ask how they would tackle an issue. Ask them what they feel they need to succeed. Ask more, direct less and coach a lot!
  • Listen actively. Don’t be distracted by email or a phone when in conversation with an employee. Give them your full attention. Your body language can reveal how you feel about what you are hearing, so be aware. 
  • Respond, don’t react. Replace immediate judgment (“that will never work”) with a question (“How do you see that being able to work here?”). Encourage dialogue. 
  • Align. Reach agreement on how you will move forward and define and assign next steps. Make discussions more collaborative and less directive to encourage buy-in from employees.

Business Acumen

Know the roles of each individual you manage. Understand their link to the company’s overall success. Understand key enablers as well as the barriers to success for both your team and your company.

To familiarize yourself with roles you manage, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does your team contribute to the overall company revenue line? How does your company make money? What are your team’s production, sales or service goals?
  • What are the big cost drivers? Where does your company tend to lose money? What are those levers?
  • Who are your key competitors? How does your company stack up against them?

Delegation

For newer managers delegation can often be the hardest skill to learn. It’s critical to give employees opportunities to execute direction on their own. Delegating not only frees up your time it also enhances employee capability, confidence and engagement.

Here are a few tips for delegating:

  • Don’t just issue an order. Explain the “why” behind the “what.”
  • Do seek confirmation of understanding. Ask if there are any questions or concerns about the direction.
  • Establish how you will follow up. No one likes a micro-manager. Clearly set expectations around how and when you plan to check in on progress.

Follow Through

Discipline can drive results. Doing what you say can increase trust. There are many methods for following through on your word. Try the one that best suits your business needs, your personal style and the needs of the individuals on your team.

  • 1:1. Try a regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting with employees. Allow them to update you on their progress.
  • Open Door. You’ve heard this before, but an open door policy is mission critical to provide employees a way to come to you with issues or concerns.
  • Team meetings. These tend to be focused on dissemination of information with larger teams so be aware of whether or not you intend to seek feedback or contribution. Sometimes Q&A sessions tagged to the end of team meetings are effective in giving people a voice.

Key Elements of People Management Strategy

The acronym R.E.A.D. can help you remember the four key elements of people management strategy. After all, great people management starts when you learn to R.E.A.D. people.

  • R – Relationships
  • E – Empowerment
  • A – Appreciation
  • D – Discussion

When your people management strategy is built around these four concepts, you can do amazing things. Let’s break each one down a little further.

Relationships

Human trust is built on relationships. If you don’t know someone, you can’t trust them. The first step to becoming a great people manager is to build relationships with the humans you will manage.

Relationships form from being open, honest, genuine, and vulnerable. They form when there is a sincere desire to get to know one another. They form when agendas are set aside and egos are put away. When these relationships are formed, trust is created. Once trust is established, magic can happen. When trust exists, assignments are completed faster, communication is more fluid and honest, and the benefit of the doubt is given when mistakes are made.

Empowerment

The best people managers are typically not micro-managers. They do not spend their days diving into the details and nit-picking every aspect of the work done by their team. Instead, they empower their people to make decisions on their own.

Empowering people is a way to extend trust. It’s a way to tell someone that you believe in them and that you have confidence in their abilities. When people feel empowered, they tend to perform at a higher level. Rather than being worried about every decision or possible mistake, they have conviction behind what they’re doing, and they bring out the best in themselves.

Appreciation

It’s no secret that people like to be praised and recognized for their accomplishments. When you do something for someone, it’s always a pleasant feeling to hear the words, “thank you!” Great people managers recognize this and are quick to show appropriate amounts of praise, gratitude, and appreciation for the work completed by their team.

Discussion

Of course, in relationships with anyone, whether it be a best friend or a co-worker you’ve only known for a month, not everything will go smoothly. You’ll hit rough patches, things won’t work out as planned, and you’ll miscommunicate from time to time. This is normal and expected.

Great people managers do not overreact to things like this. Instead, they have discussions. The point of these discussions is to share honest thoughts and feelings about what happened or what went wrong. If both parties can come to the table and feel comfortable speaking openly, these discussions will be a success.

People Management During Each Phase of the Employee Lifecycle

Now that we’ve learned about the skills that people managers require, we’ll take a closer look at specific people management tasks that occur throughout the employee lifecycle. Once you have a better grasp of the phases of the employment lifecycle, you’ll be ready to dive into the details and break down the various processes and responsibilities within each phase.

  • Pre-employment. The pre-employment phase typically consists of two processes: hiring and onboarding. Part of this phase takes place outside of your company’s walls, but it doesn’t make it any less critical to the success of the business. 
  • Employment. This is where an employee is actively working for your company and receiving wages for their labor. During this phase, the business will be responsible for storing and tracking important employee information, reviewing performance and re-assessing expectations, offering benefits, and promoting high achievers.
  • Termination. The final phase of the lifecycle is termination. Termination takes place either voluntarily or involuntarily. This phase encompasses the offboarding and debriefing processes an employee will go through when they are released from their employment obligations.

Hiring

The way you go about hiring will enable you to identify and recruit great people who will be assets in your organization. Here are a few best practices when it comes to hiring:

Create an easy application: If you want great people to apply to work for your business, you need to make the application process as painless as possible. Great people have options and will not waste their time with meaningless questions or unnecessary data collection, so never ask more questions than are necessary. Additionally, you should make accessibility a priority. Allow job seekers to apply online (including on your website) or in-person.

Be prompt in your communication: Hiring is as much about speed as it is anything else. If you are slow to contact the candidates who apply to your job, you’re taking an unnecessary risk. If top candidates end up taking another position, you’ll be left with second-rate applicants.

Create an appropriate interview process: Your interview process should match the job that the candidate is applying for. This means that entry-level or hourly positions (such as a call-center job) should not require more than two rounds of interviews before a decision is made. Interview processes that last longer will exhaust candidates. Candidates interviewing for more senior-level positions will be more patient with a longer process.

Communicate your decisions: Many businesses will choose to reject a candidate internally, but will never tell the candidate that they’ve been rejected. They’ll keep them waiting, and eventually the candidate will move on, but not before they’ve acquired a very bad taste for the company. Always make it clear if you’re moving forward with a candidate or if you’re moving on from them.

Onboarding

After you make the decision on who to hire, you begin the onboarding process. New hire onboarding is critical to the employee’s experience and, when done correctly, will lead to lower employee turnover rates. These are a few things that you’ll want to get right:

Sign the proper documents: Now that an employee has agreed to work for you, the next step is to make sure you get all your legal ducks in a row. This means paperwork. All new hires in the United States should complete an I-9 form within three days of starting their new job. This is required by federal law. Additionally, new hires will need to complete tax forms (typically a W-4 for full-time employees) as well as any company documents, such as non-disclosure agreements, non-compete agreements, health insurance contracts, and more.

Train your new hires: A key component to your onboarding process will be your new hire training. Without proper and exact training, it’ll be difficult for the new employee to assimilate. It’s important that you set clear expectations and then train them in order to meet those expectations. If an employee does not feel comfortable in their new role due to lack of training, they will leave. We recommend creating a training program for each position you staff. The training program may span days or weeks depending on the complexity of the job. Having a pre-made program in place will not only keep you on track but will provide structure and stability for your new employee.

Introduce the company culture: Of course, training for the skills, responsibilities, and demands of the job won’t be enough. Not only do employees need to feel comfortable doing their work, but they need to feel comfortable with the company they work for. It’s no secret that every company has a unique culture, a unique vocabulary, and unique traditions. Help your new hires understand your culture by immersing themselves in it. Teach them about your core values, and explain your mission and vision.

Help the new hire feel part of the team: In the same way that most kindergarten students are afraid to leave their parents on the first day of school, many employees feel extremely nervous about starting a new job. The “first-day jitters” are normal, but it’s your job to ensure that they dissolve quickly. It’s important to introduce your new hire to the rest of the team. Help them make friends. Tell them who they can turn to when they need help. Get to know them on a personal level. Show them that you care. All of these things will not only make your employee feel happier and more welcome, but they’ll also lead to higher production and lower turnover.

Taking Care of Employee Information

A big part of managing employees can be rather dull. There is information that you need to keep track of and store properly so that it can be accessed in case of audits or emergencies. Here are a few tips for properly tracking and storing employee information:

Securely store documents: After you’ve had employees sign onboarding documents, it’s important to make sure those documents are stored securely. Don’t risk storing sensitive data on unsecured spreadsheets, or worse, in filing cabinets. Storing documents properly and securely protects the business and its employees.

Record and store important contact information: In addition to onboarding documents, there is other information about your employees that you’ll need to store in a secure location. This includes things like contact information (phone number, email address, physical address) and emergency contact information. This information should be readily accessible in case of an emergency, but should not be available to anyone in the company.

Track job and salary history: Keeping detailed employment records is important, especially when it comes to job and pay history. If an employee stays with your company for an extended period of time, they’ll likely change jobs, receive wage increases, and maybe even be awarded bonuses. Employees and HR will both benefit from a history of how those things changed over time.

Evaluating Performance

People management requires staying informed about workers’ progress. When it comes to performance, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Hold performance reviews regularly: In a study conducted by employee engagement firm Office Vibe, 65% of employees responded that they wanted more feedback. In a survey conducted by Joblist, they also found that employees, especially millennial employees, did not think annual reviews were enough. The takeaway? Make sure you’re meeting often with employees to talk about what they’re doing well and how they can improve.

Frequent performance reviews benefit both the business and the employee. When you conduct regular performance reviews, both parties have an understanding of expectations and reality. Expectations because they can discuss changes or improvements that need to be made in the future, and reality because they can have honest conversations about the work that’s already being done. When performance reviews are not held regularly, the business loses clarity on the work done by the employee, and the employee loses sight of the company’s expectations.

Align goals and expectations: To manage employees well, you need to set clear goals and expectations. When an employee knows what they’re working towards, and when their vision is in line with yours, both parties will be happier when the desired outcomes are achieved. Additionally, employees should be able to see how their work contributes to the overall goals of the company.

Reward employees for excellent work: When an employee performs well, they should be rewarded. The last thing you want is a high-achieving employee leaving your company because they do not feel properly compensated or valued. Do not hesitate to promote employees and increase their pay when they have proven themselves to be valuable assets. Remember, it is much more expensive to find a replacement than it is to incrementally increase a high-performer’s salary.

Benefits

Offer the best benefits that you can afford. Employee benefits can be extremely costly, and some small businesses may not be able to afford to offer things like health insurance, 401k matching, or tuition reimbursement. However, even if you can’t offer these kinds of benefits, there are plenty of fringe benefits that you can get creative with. For example, you could give employees a monthly stipend for a gym membership or for their home internet connection. You could provide generous PTO, grant access to a company Audible account, or commit to offering flexible work hours. 

Termination

Choosing to let an employee go is never a fun experience. But there are a few steps you can take to help the process go as smoothly as possible.

Provide a fair warning: In an ideal world, an employee should never be fired without a fair warning. Of course, there are sometimes drastic situations that call for immediate termination. However, most employees who are involuntarily terminated from their jobs demonstrate clear patterns of negligence, unsatisfactory performance, or other inappropriate behavior long before their final day of work. When an employee falls into this category, be honest and candid about what you’re seeing. Call attention to the problem as soon as possible and give them time to correct it.

Give clear expectations after warning: Once a warning has been issued, it’s important that the employee understands that they need to make changes if they want to continue working at your company. Many businesses create something that’s commonly referred to as a “PIP” or Performance Improvement Plan. PIPs are used to help employees understand where they’re falling short, what they need to do to correct the problem, and goals or achievements they must hit in order to keep their job.

Conduct exit surveys: When an employee decides to leave your business voluntarily, use this opportunity to conduct an exit interview. Exit interviews are a good way of learning what it’s really like to work within your company. Typically, when an employee is on their way out, they’re much more likely to be honest and open about their experience. Ask them questions about their manager, their job, their working conditions, their benefits, their pay, and more. Ask them why they’re choosing to leave and if there is anything you could have done to convince them to stay. Do your best to listen and learn, rather than overreact or get emotional about the feedback or criticism that may come your way.

5 Tips for People Managers

If you want to take your people management skills to the next level, you need to become a great leader. Here are a few tips (with real-life illustrations and evidence) about using strong people management skills to build effective, resilient teams.

Tip 1: Remember that Good Leadership Matters

In Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Babin tells a story about when he was a SEAL instructor after his deployments in Iraq. 

In one of the training scenarios, teams of men raced with their 200-pound boats to complete courses made by the instructor. Each team had seven SEALs in training, and the most senior man was the boat crew leader. There was one team that was winning every single race that they had to run, and there was another team that came dead last in every single race. 

The instructors decided to conduct a little leadership experiment. They switched the boat crew chiefs of the two teams and sent all the teams out for the next race. The boat crew that had been beaten miserably by every other team came in first with this new leader.

When teams are struggling, solid leadership can make all the difference. Make sure that as a people manager, you’re actively cultivating leadership qualities in yourself so that your people can all win together.

Tip 2: Build a Team With People of All Experience Levels

Travis Hansen, an NBA player turned entrepreneur, has played on enough basketball teams and created enough business teams to know a thing or two about how to build a good one. 

Part of his advice for building a quality team comes down to the right mixture of experience. Travis has found that the best teams have a mixture of experience levels. You need a couple of giants who have been in the industry for a long time and are exceptional at what they do. After that, you need some people who have been in a while but aren’t at their peak. These are really solid and consistent players. 

Finally, you’ve got your rookies. This is where you accept the most risk but have potential for incredible ROI. These teammates are new, talented, and intensely motivated to thrive and grow. They’re good at what they do, but not too proud to take feedback if it means getting better.

This construction of a great basketball team translates over to the business world perfectly. It creates a mentorship mentality. Of course you have to find people that are willing to mentor and be mentored, but the mixture of experience lends to that end goal very well.

Tip 3: Help Your People Identify Their Skills

Don Clifton, the father of strengths-based psychology, developed an assessment that helps people find what their innate talents are through a long series of situational questions and millions of previously gathered data points. 

In honor of Clifton, Gallup and Tom Rath wrote StrengthsFinder and StrengthsFinder 2.0. These books and the associated assessment give insight into what a particular person’s strengths mean specifically for them.

The purpose of this assessment and book can be stated in a single quote: “You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” Basically, you can work really hard at something you’re not talented at and end up mediocre, or you can work really hard at something you’re talented at and become extraordinary.

As a people leader, a big part of your job is to help your people discover what they’re best at and then invest in that area. By helping them identify innate talents and motivating them to work hard to develop those talents, you’ll help people reach their full potential. 

Of course, each talent and strength comes with weaknesses. Fortunately, each weakness can be covered by a person of a different strength. By building teams and assigning roles based on a combination of people’s talents, investment, and subsequent strengths, you can achieve a much higher-performing team than if you ignored these variables.

Tip 4: Keep Teams and Meetings Small

As you’re navigating the strengths, weaknesses, and talents of your team members, be careful not to make the team overly complex. There is a bit of nuance to the size of your team that may come in handy.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, uses what he calls the “two pizza” rule. Basically, the rule is that Amazon only holds meetings with as many people as can be fed by two pizzas. Any more than that and the group is too big. Big groups stifle creativity and nothing will get done. 

Fewer people in meetings fosters contribution and creativity, and it minimizes groupthink and distraction. This not only maximizes the time of those in the meetings, but it allows more people to do their work rather than waste time in a meeting they don’t contribute to.

By keeping teams and meetings small you build agility into your organization. Your organization will be able to make decisions faster and waste less time.

Tip 5: Focus on Communication

A study at MIT revealed that a huge contributor to the performance and success of a team is how they communicate. Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland developed a wearable badge that tracked the types of conversations employees had throughout the workday.

From the data gathered by this device, Sandy found that there was one characteristic that set  high-performing teams apart from otherwise similar low-performing teams. The difference was how they communicated. High-performing teams had members that communicated more often, with more energy, with more people.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Sandy wrote, “We’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”

He continued, “The best way to build a great team is not to select individuals for their smarts or accomplishments but to learn how they communicate and to shape and guide the team so that it follows successful communication patterns.”

Examples of Great People Managers

Because coaching is one of the greatest skills a manager can possess, sports coaches are often listed when discussing great people managers in business. Here are a few examples of great people managers, their differences in leading and why they’re so skilled at managing.

Vince Lombardi

Planning and discipline drive results. Commitment to hard work, grueling practices and loyalty to fellow teammates led the Green Bay Packers to win the very first Super Bowl in the 1965-1966 season, the next two successive Super Bowls as well as five NFL Championships, thus clinching the title of one of football’s greatest coaches for Vince Lombardi.

Jack Welch

Jack Welch demonstrated maniacal focus on results and commitment to continuous improvement. Jack Welch became known for training and development during his 20-plus year career at General Electric. He was also known for regularly removing bottom performers.

Tim Cook

Apple’s quietly effective leader who followed in the giant footsteps of the larger-than-life Steve Jobs is an example of how innovation is put at the forefront by focusing on the employee experience. At Apple, work locations are flexible and employees have plenty of free time to foster new ideas. Known for his intently active listening, Cook promotes formal and informal processes to enable employees to bubble up ideas. Tim is credited for doubling Apple’s profits during his current reign as CEO.

Take care of your people and protect your business

Track essential employee data, digitize your manual HR processes, and improve your employee experience with Eddy People.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About People Management

Create a plan. Start by defining areas in which you feel you need development. Find books or videos on the topic. Practice with a friend, coach or mentor. Your practice should be regular and intentional. Seek feedback in order to improve. Repeat these steps!
Personalized development plans customized to meet the unique needs of each manager are ideal, but an alternative is to provide workshops that cover one topic at a time and include the opportunity for practice and feedback.

Milly Christmann is a high energy, operationally oriented talent management leader with extensive expertise in human resources, sales management, service and operations. She is recognized for collaborating with leaders to achieve their business goals by unleashing the power of an engaged workforce. By using process improvement, technology and strong, impassioned people skills as well as by attracting, developing and retaining top talent, Ms. Christmann drives change that matters.

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