Are good people managers a pain in the ass?

Rogier van der Werf

The added value of being a good people manager is often overlooked and in doing so, managers are missing out on a golden opportunity.

Are good people managers a pain in the ass?

The added value of being a good people manager and knowing your employees both personally and professionally is often overlooked.  By doing so, managers miss out on an opportunity to increase both employee engagement and productivity within their team.

A strange anecdote

Before my current role at Effectory International, I used to hold a position as a line manager at a consulting firm in London. After some time in my last role, I decided that I wanted to move back to the Netherlands and so the hunt for a new position began.

During a job interview for a management position one of the interviewers asked how many of the current employees I manage thought I was a pain in the ass. At the time, I remember thinking that the question was a strange way to start discussing my management skills. Was the interviewer implying that if people didn’t consider me a pain in the ass I wasn’t a good manager?

The question has stayed with me since and recently got me thinking about the larger issue of what makes a good people manager, and how managers can get the best out of their employees.

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It matters who’s leading

Having worked as a manager and for several managers in my professional career, the one thing that many organisations forget is that managing people is a job itself. It requires talent and requires the right person for the job. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

Far too often employees are given management positions based on the criteria of either being the best in their current role or having the most seniority; not because they have great people management skills. It’s a real shame when this happens. Managers without the skills or talent aren’t able to help teams realise their potential, which results in (at best) mediocrity becoming the accepted standard.   

 3 ways managers can improve development opportunities

Over the last few years I’ve learned that the best people managers have a knack for knowing what makes people tick, know how to set people up for success and enjoy developing others. More specifically they excel in the following:

  • Recognising people’s talents and strengths
  • Setting clear expectations and goals
  • Treating every employee as unique

Finding the right person for the job

Most people aren’t well-rounded, but are talented in a few distinct areas. Understanding the professional strengths of employees is one of the traits of great managers. Knowing which employees are good at what is essential when assessing which tasks and goals to assign to employees, which employees to place on projects and which employees to combine to make the best teams. Coupling work with employee’s strengths makes employees feel that they are doing the things that come most natural to them. Being able to play to employees’ strengths, as well as creating teams that complement each other is key to increasing productivity and enhancing engagement among employees

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Clear expectations and goals

Once you’ve found the right person for the job, with the necessary talents, make sure they know what’s expected from them, what outcomes they are individually working towards and how that fits into the team’s goals.  A good mutual understanding around goals should provide clarity and good basis to work together. Whilst this may seem obvious and be regular practice for many, the reverse also needs to happen.

Employees should know what they can expect from you as a manager. They should at minimum know about the way you communicate and how performance is managed. Make it a two-way conversation. Most people have a preferred way of being managed, and it’s not the same for everyone. Instead of trial and error, why not just ask your employees what they expect from a manager and have a constructive conversation around it?

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Treat people fairly, but individually

Treating employees fairly relates to the same parameters a manger operates within, and refers to the same rules that apply to everyone. Treating employees individually refers to the different needs of individuals in order to excel.

Everyone is unique, which also means that everyone has different needs in order to excel in their role.  If you really want to enable employees to perform at their best, avoid adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. It doesn’t work.

In my own experience as a manager I’ve had employees that I only needed a scheduled catch up with every two weeks to get the job done, whereas I would meet other team member once or twice a week. Some people want more direction from a manager, whilst others take need more of a coaching role. The differences in what employees want go as far as recognition; not everyone likes public recognition, and some rather receive a personal letter. If managers truly know what makes their employees tick, they have the right tools to really motivate them.

Managers and employee engagement

The winning combination

Knowing employees on both a personal and professional level is one of the greatest assets in the art of people management. Good people managers don’t have to be a pain in the ass. When organisations select and employ managers based on their people management skills and the above three traits they’re creating conditions for high employee engagement and high performance; a winning combination. 

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