Let’s Talk About…People Management

That thing to which so many employees aspire is rarely straight-forward, says Davina Greene

“People” and “Management”. Putting those words together at times seems something akin to bringing “kittens” and “photoshoot” into the same sentence – much ignored instruction, mad dashing about, corralling, cajoling, restraining, howling and scraping, with seemingly no constructive ending in sight; at other times, when the stars align and things go well, the feeling of teamwork, achievement and general cuddliness is hard to beat.

Look, management would be a dream if everyone worked with the same healthy drive, if everyone had perspective, if everyone enjoyed the whole concept of ‘work’. A CEO once said to me, “There’s nothing worse than someone who’s unenthusiastic and clueless”. I replied, “Yes there is: there’s someone who is enthusiastic and clueless”. At least, if they’re unenthusiastic, they’re probably sitting still with a minimal sphere of influence. With enthusiasm, you’re endlessly carrying a metaphorical fishing rod to try to spot them and reel them back in before the proverbial hits the fan. As a manager, you’ll have the pleasure of cleaning up that ‘proverbial’ which is, of course, a situation best avoided.

Being “nice” does not mean being a good manager. Nice or not, some people should never be let anywhere near a people management role, for the sake of the general sanity of the majority, of their own mental health, or both. There doesn’t have to be ill-intent on either side to create People Management issues, so complex are we as human beings. In the public eye (and, let’s face it, to a heightened extent in the global political sphere), we can often see examples of people who can never accept that they are the common denominator of staffing problems, and therefore never reach a steady managerial state. A leader doesn’t necessarily need to be a manager, but they certainly don’t facilitate their own leadership by rocking every boat they see around them.

Probably the most important task for any manager is that of bringing out the best in a team, in terms of general fit, contentment and resulting productivity. Hired smart people but you’re under-using them? Disaster. Hired focussed people but can’t tell them what the bigger aim is? Disaster.

It is important to remember, however, that People Management spans everything from getting the right person through the door for interview to allowing people to leave under as positive a light as possible – that is, from Job Description to P45. My golden rules for achieving this? Firstly, be able to discuss the role. Next, be able to discuss the goals of the role. Next, agree with the person that their abilities match the role and its goals. Finally, get their confirmation that they are willing to proceed on that basis. Do that at the start and you’ve set yourself off on good footing. Repeat it periodically and managerial life becomes much easier – but to repeat it periodically, you always need to be a step ahead, in terms of understanding what the business needs at any given time (and maintaining a good stock of flexible people).

Whenever we deal with people, it is always a good idea to observe the ‘Golden Rule’– in our local parlance, we’d recognise it mainly as “Do unto others”, a concept held dear in varying wordings across most cultures. As managers, we focus a lot on what people should be doing for us, and relatively little on the platform we need to create from which they can best be productive – we forget to respect skills, experience and resulting opinion; we forget that, often, the reasons why a person is not performing are personal and therefore give little time to their stories, or reading between the lines. Know your team, know how they want to be handled individually, take time to strategize for dealing with difficult people or conversations, and always have an ear to the ground so that you know when the general mood is shifting towards a bad place. People management requires time and effort. Are you willing and able?

Key points:

Be resilient. Management is complex, a real skill. Accept that, and don’t interpret every non-perfect day as a ‘bad day’.

Be humane, following ‘Do unto others’ principles – this is their life, after all. Inspire the same treatment in return.

Have perspective: people are different, you’ll need to understand problems through their eyes.

Know your limits. When you’re struggling, ask someone experienced.

Communicate: for clarity, always discuss Role, Goal, Ability and Willingness upfront.


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