People managers need people skills by David Middup

People managers need people skills by David Middup

Businesses that want to get the most from their workforce need to take a closer look at people who manage their staff. Too often people managers are failing to live up to their title.


Senior Manager, People Powered Performance

KPMG in the UK


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I see a number of reasons for this. People management is often not recognised as a skill in its own right and individuals are made managers based on technical ability alone. That frequently leaves them unequipped with the necessary skills to communicate, motivate and act strategically.

People managers can be left feeling highly uncomfortable in their new positions. The result is that many fail to get the best out of their team or fail to take ownership of people issues. In my experience of deploying and validating HR programmes, many managers seek to off-load their responsibilities – dismissing people-related issues as HR responsibility – while others fail to follow agreed processes.

The issue of effective people management is all the more relevant today as companies increasingly shift the onus for staff development from HR, back into the business – from strategy and implementation right through to performance management. 

Though some individuals will always be more adept at managing people than others, training is part of the solution. People managers need to be empowered and educated to undertake their role effectively for the future benefit of the business.

Organisations are getting smarter about promoting those with the relevant people skills, rather than solely those with the technical expertise to do the job. But there remain too many unskilled people managers in place. That becomes a problem for the whole company if disgruntled workers are leaving the business or teams are performing below par.

Managers may seek to delegate activities if they are uncomfortable with the role or lack the relevant skills. Processes are often loose enough to allow this to happen. Forms that managers should fill out are given to an administrator. Awkward IT processes are used as excuses for them to leave HR tasks unfinished.

In some instances, the problem is a manager not taking performance management and development seriously. Again, this leads to teams that are unhappy, perform poorly and fail to comply with process. For managers to buy into the model, they need to see strong sponsorship from the top. 

Organisations need to incentivise managers to take on these new roles effectively, but also sanction them if they are not performing correctly. That could involve linking people development into performance management goals. However it is only reasonable to do this if you give managers the skills and opportunity to develop them in the first place. Deploying skilled and effective people managers throughout an organisation can only ever be a benefit to the business.

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