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Updated Nov 06, 2023

What Does It Take to Be a Good People Manager?

Learn how to enhance your people management skills to effectively lead your team to success.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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Your employees are one of your company’s most significant assets, and their performance greatly affects your bottom line. However, simply hiring skilled employees isn’t enough; how your business leaders manage these team members can strongly influence 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 ultimately lead their teams and organizations to success.

What is people management?

People management, a subset of human resource management, organizes employees and builds 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 dictatorial, an effective people manager strives to empower their employees, which plays a big role in 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 us.

When a business emphasizes team orchestration, Bainbridge said, they see the approach and attitude of their managers shift in three significant, beneficial ways:

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

Why is people management important?

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

Company morale

Companies with low morale and poor engagement often have high employee turnover and burnout rates. However, implementing optimal people management strategies 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 and president of digital learning platform ExpertusONE. “Only when a company truly takes care of its people will it become a success.”

FYIDid you know
Employees tend to quit bosses, not companies. It's vital for your people leaders to avoid bad boss behavior and instead focus on maintaining a happy and motivated workforce.

Productivity and efficiency

People management involves organizing your team to increase productivity and optimize efficiency. When you have the right employees in place, train your team properly 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,” Bainbridge said.

Competitive advantage in the marketplace

Understanding how to orchestrate teams can give small businesses a competitive advantage. Because small businesses often lack the budget or market presence of their larger, corporate counterparts, maximizing a smaller pool of resources is crucial, Bainbridge said. This includes optimizing 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 and accountable, and acts with integrity. A 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 of what is happening in the business. Good managers encourage two-way communication and are receptive to feedback.
  3. Organization and conscientiousness: Managers must clearly define goals, processes, timelines and success metrics to their teams. Each goal should be 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 improve company retention.

Other people management skills include empathy, patience, achievement recognition, relatability, adaptability, conflict resolution and decisiveness. [Read related article: Here’s What Employees Actually Want From a Leader]

How do you 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. You can enhance your people management skills in several easy and organic ways.

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 request feedback from your team in return. Ask employees to offer their honest feedback without fear of retaliation.

Bainbridge said asking for and embracing feedback has multiple benefits:

  • It softens your ego.
  • It offers valuable insight that will promote your growth.
  • It makes you more likable, approachable and respected.
TipBottom line
The best way to gather valuable employee feedback is to foster a workforce that engages in both formal and informal feedback.

Find an experienced coach or mentor who can guide you.

Seek a skilled and experienced coach or mentor who can provide 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 within or outside your organization, but your mentor should be someone other than your direct boss.

Maintain a growth mindset.

Everybody, not just managers, should have a growth mindset. To grow, both in business and in your personal life, you acknowledge that you don’t know everything and 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,” Bainbridge said. “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 many 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 these companies, which offer training courses in people management:

  • American Management Association (AMA): AMA offers employee training online, in a classroom or at your company’s location.
  • 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 courses on leadership and management, soft skills and performance management.

What are the most common people management mistakes to avoid?

Effective people management is crucial for creating a positive and productive work environment. Avoiding common people management mistakes can help ensure that your team remains motivated, engaged and committed.

Here are five of the most common people management mistakes to avoid:

  1. Communicating poorly: Failing to communicate clearly and consistently with your team can lead to misunderstandings, confusion and decreased morale. Regularly update your team on goals, expectations and changes. Also, remember that communication is a two-way street; ensure that your door is open for them to come to you when needed.
  2. Micromanaging: Hovering over your employees’ shoulders and excessively controlling their tasks can stifle creativity, erode trust and hinder their professional growth. Instead, focus on setting clear expectations and providing the necessary resources and support.
  3. Ignoring employee feedback: Disregarding feedback from your team members can discourage open communication. Actively ask for and listen to their suggestions, concerns and ideas to create a more collaborative environment.
  4. Playing favorites: Treating some staff members more favorably than others can create resentment and division within the team. Treat everyone fairly and consistently, valuing their contributions equally. This is especially important to keep in mind if you have a hybrid workforce, as it can be easy to accidentally develop proximity bias.
  5. Mishandling conflicts: No matter how uncomfortable you are with conflict, you must not shy away from it. Avoiding or mishandling disputes within the team can lead to tension and further discord. Address conflicts promptly, objectively and fairly to maintain a harmonious work environment

Remember that effective people management is an ongoing process that requires continuous improvement and adaptation. By avoiding these common mistakes and focusing on building strong relationships, fostering growth and creating a positive work culture, you can lead your team to success.

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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