I’ve written previously about the reasons why I believe you can’t teach someone to be a great people manager. You can improve someone’s people management skills, but my personal belief, borne out by my years of working with people and their line managers, is that people management, and inherently understanding how you inspire, develop and get the best out of people, in itself is not something which can be taught.
We all know the oft-quoted stat that people don’t leave organisations, they leave managers. Our interactions with our line manager form a central component of our employee experience. Get these interactions right, and we’re able to deliver positive reinforcement every single day.
Get them wrong, and each time we do, we’re eroding away at the experience our people have at work.
A system designed to fail
It would be easy to blame the people managers themselves for this, but that’s not what this blog post is all about. The fact is that we have created a system within our organisations which, in the main, is designed to fail both managers and employees alike. The structures we have typically built to deliver are all designed around the delivery of task. Because of this, we have hired and promoted managers who are competent at delivering these tasks. Can they manage people? If they can, then it’s only by chance. People management is an add on – something which we take for granted that managers can do. Which is ironic, given it’s actually a more complex skill than managing most tasks.
We therefore end up in a cycle which is miserable for both employees and managers. Our task-orientated managers naturally gravitate towards spending the majority of their time facilitating the team delivery of tasks. The time they have available to spend with their people is increasingly cut down on as they do so. Employees become frustrated and relationship cracks start to form.
Management training doesn’t work
At this point, the natural instinct of an organisation is to provide management training to those managers. The problem is though, as I’ve already identified, that I don’t believe people management skills can be taught. Consequently, you end up with a frustrated group of managers – more time having been taken away from their task-management, no substantive improvement in their people management abilities, and the manager/employee relationship continues to fracture.
So what’s the solution? We still need task-orientated managers to head up these teams. If we’re accepting that it will be the exception rather than the rule that they also have the innate ability to manage people, how do we fill our people management gap?
Standout people managers
I believe the answer – and the opportunity – lies with HR. This is about moving a stage beyond the traditional business partnering model: not simply supporting line managers within the business, but actually taking on the people management responsibilities typically given to those managers.
If we focus our efforts on building out our HR team to bring in standout people managers – employees who have people management as a primary skill, not as an add on – we can then embed these managers within our operational delivery teams. This enables our task managers to focus one hundred percent of their time on tasks. We deliver more as a result, and those managers have a more positive employee experience too, because they are spending their time on what they do best.
The heart of an organisation’s strategic agenda
Meanwhile, our people managers work in tandem with those task managers, fully focused on developing, growing and managing our people. With time – proper time – devoted to individual career growth and development, and with performance feedback able to be given in real time, employees are, perhaps for the first time, able to realise their full potential. Both what they deliver for the business and also the experience they have when they come to work increases exponentially thereafter.
The net result? Happier, more engaged managers; happier, more engaged employees; and an organisation which is finally able to truly deliver against the potential of the people its hired to work within it. Having recently introduced such a structure at Benefex, we are already starting to see the benefits of doing so. Finally, people management finds its true place at the heart of an organisation’s strategic agenda… instead of being an ineffective add on.