People Management

Milly Christmann
Milly Christmann

Table of Contents

It’s mystical, magical and at times maddening! As careers progress, many of us experience people management. Let’s try to break down this illusive 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.

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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?


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.

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.

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
Milly Christmann

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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