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GuidesEmployee experienceBeginner’s guide to people management: Overview, skills & development

Beginner’s guide to people management: Overview, skills & development

Last updated

13 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Many roles require people management skills, from managers to HR consultants. 

Effective people managers can give employees the support and guidance they need while facilitating effective business growth. 

Strong people management will become more crucial as employee morale, company culture, and work-life balance continue to be prominent career concerns.

Let’s learn more about people management skills and why they matter.

What is people management?

People management is the approach toward hiring, leading, and supporting employees to complete workplace tasks effectively. It’s a critical element of employee retention and positive employer reputations.

Employees rely on leaders to provide training and knowledge, assign tasks, guide project development, and equally divide tasks and resources within a team. 

People managers may be team leaders or members of the HR department with hiring and training responsibilities. Many roles and responsibilities fall under the broad category of people management.

Organizations might establish standard practices for recruiting, retaining, training, directing, and coaching personnel. This can encourage optimal people management and employee engagement.

Leaders can also benefit from prioritizing the development of strong people management skills.

What is an example of people management?

An example of people management is a manager using conflict resolution skills when two coworkers disagree on how a process should work.

When coworkers conflict over different responsibilities and approaches, an effective manager will meaningfully listen to both employees. 

The manager might ask both sides to present their difficulties, create a list of their needs, and work with the two to develop a solution.   

To take people management further, this manager might offer training or encourage one of the employees to conduct the training on the newly revised process. The manager might also proactively ask for feedback on how to avoid the issue in future.

A good people manager:

  • Resolves challenges and conflicts between coworkers

  • Continually reviews work processes and responsibilities to minimize conflicts

Other examples of people management include: 

  • Building retention programs

  • Having a talent pipeline

  • Creating mentorship programs

  • Implementing personalized training programs

Is HR the same as people management?

Human resources (HR) and people management concentrate on personnel, but they’re not the same in practice. 

HR focuses on the organization’s legal compliance and regulatory processes for employment, payroll, and management while supporting leadership and employees. 

However, people management is a responsibility and skill encompassing leadership responsibilities, training, productivity, and efficiency. 

You could view HR and people management as two separate sides of a Venn diagram with some overlapping priorities.

Why is effective people management so important?

Effective people management is a crucial element in morale and team productivity, providing benefits like:

Higher employee engagement

Through effective people management, employees can feel more empowered to develop their careers and flourish within the organization. 

A people manager can: 

  • Ensure each employee has a fair workload, mitigating the risk of burnout

  • Help employees set individual goals

  • Provides constructive feedback and performance management

  • Optimize workflows for greater employee success

Less employee turnover

Poor people management has long been one of the reasons why companies experience high turnover. As the saying goes, 'People don't leave bad jobs—they leave bad managers.' 

However, better leadership skills and approaches can resolve conflicts before they trigger turnover, leading to longer employment and less turnover.

More productive teams

While people managers help employees succeed, they do so in service to the overall organization. 

Good people managers: 

  • Provide feedback to guide better productivity

  • Remove roadblocks to efficient employee performance

  • Play a key role in helping teams and departments achieve financial goals or quotas

A higher degree of organizational success

People managers who give employees what they need to succeed can use their efforts to support organization-wide strategies. 

For example, they can: 

  • Facilitate changes in product messaging

  • Encourage employees to adopt new technologies

  • Mediate between employees and company policy changes

People management challenges

Several challenges can interfere with attempts at effective people management. 

These challenges include complex elements like communication and teamwork. Effective managers can anticipate these challenges, allocate resources, and proactively check for signs of conflict or difficulties.

Some of the most common people management challenges you might encounter are:

Inability to effectively coach

People managers run the risk of micromanaging or being too critical. Coaching is a skill you must practice and deliberately improve. 

Managers can improve their coaching by: 

  • Getting feedback from their teams

  • Learning new coaching styles

  • Focusing on giving their employees independence and support

An effective people manager asks, “What can I do to help you perform at your best?”

Lack of performance feedback

A standard, repeatable performance management process is key to staying on top of employee performance and providing regular feedback. 

Performance reviews are a great time for managers to tell their team what they’re doing right and wrong. Still, many managers hesitate to give negative performance reviews; they're nervous about being critical or delivering bad news. They also may have poor communication skills. 

However, managers must be able to give constructive criticism. Providing objective and clear feedback to employees is crucial, as ongoing performance issues could impact the whole company. 

Feedback is a two-way street. Effective managers will ask for feedback on their performance as a leader. 

Decreased employee performance and low morale

Employee performance can stagnate or worsen for a multitude of reasons: 

  • Economic conditions

  • Recent layoffs

  • Distractions, like the holiday season or personal issues

  • Interpersonal conflict

Any of these factors can impact the effectiveness of managers' performance strategies. 

An effective manager will assess performance, determine the underlying causes of worsened performance, and resolve them to the best of their ability.

Understaffing

Low staffing can cause multiple issues, including unfinished work, anxiety, burnout, and pressure from other leaders. 

Successful people managers must understand their employees' limits and prevent overwork. 

While adding tasks and responsibilities to employee workloads can seem like an easy solution, it leads to long-term problems regarding morale, trust, and employer reputation. 

An effective people manager will plan for staffing dips and surges—a staffing plan will go a long way for the team and the organization.

Failure to manage change

People managers need to make potentially unpopular programs work. 

For example, managers often have to communicate changes in work-from-home policies or bonus structures. This can erode trust and positive relationships, impacting the leader's ability to be an effective people manager.  

Since change is inevitable, effective people managers should learn how to manage change in the organization to keep their teams on board with minimal resistance.

What are the most common people management mistakes to avoid?

Some of the most common people management mistakes are:

  • Not building two-way communication channels

  • Avoiding conflict instead of resolving it

  • Micromanaging employees and demonstrating distrust

  • Not giving employees the resources and support they need

The 5 Cs of people management

Different strategies exist to improve people management approaches or give leaders the tools they need for more effective people management. 

One of these strategies is the five Cs of people management. This structure can help first-time and seasoned managers alike. All five elements are central tenets of good people management. 

The five Cs include:

1. Create—Build a better future

The fundamental element of successful people management is creation. 

Managers must create workflows, standardized processes, communication channels, and a steady talent pipeline—all parts of creating a positive work environment.

Once the infrastructure for better management styles is in place, managers can more easily support employees and focus on organizational goals.

2. Comprehend—Understand the present and the future better

Good people managers make continual efforts to understand their employees' motivations, needs, and career goals. 

With this insight, effective leaders can work with each employee to determine their career tracks within the company and organize team responsibilities to fit goals and skills. 

Managers must also clearly understand current company needs and future objectives to prepare their teams.

3. Communicate—Open channels to connect effectively

Frequent communication does a lot of heavy lifting in effective people management.

Even if pressure is high, team morale is low, and budgets are short, managers can still help employees succeed by maintaining an effective communication style. This includes:

  • Creating channels for quick and clear information sharing 

  • Ensuring employees can easily reach you in person or through digital channels

  • Providing two-way communication channels for feedback, support, and personal emergencies

Simultaneously, it also involves acting as a barrier. Good managers ensure new responsibilities and departmental conflicts reach them first, shielding employees from demands, interruptions, and arguments.

4. Collaborate—Cooperate smarter, faster, and stronger

Effective people managers ensure all employees can work as a collective. 

This includes listening to feedback and ensuring employees have the tools and support they need to be productive. 

It also requires a clear understanding of the bigger picture, allowing employees to focus on their individual tasks and responsibilities while managers ensure all elements come together. 

In today's workplaces, collaboration incorporates human and non-human actors within workflows.

5. Confront—Deal with conflict for better teamwork

Managers set the tone for how confrontations happen. Poor managers may avoid conflict, react aggressively to criticism, or resist change. 

Good managers do the opposite. They create tools and spaces for effective conflict resolution. They invite criticism and make measured changes in response. 

Managers must also tackle natural confrontations such as the emergence of new technologies, changes in workplace regulations and procedures, and differences in work styles. These can strengthen or weaken the team depending on the manager’s approach.

Key people management skills

Good people managers have certain skills that empower employees and manage various tasks. 

While some managers may naturally have these skills, those who don’t can learn them through dedicated practice and attention. 

The most important skills for people managers are:

Organization

People management is a broad responsibility and involves dozens or even hundreds of tasks. 

Effective people managers must be organized enough to respond quickly to messages, not forget about new to-dos, and manage their employees’ workflows and responsibilities.

Active listening

Active listeners prioritize understanding a speaker's stance and opinion. 

They listen, seek to understand, and broadcast to the speaker that they’re listening. This involves nonverbal cues, questions at the time, and referring to past conversations later.

Patience

Managers must often handle workplace conflicts, tedious training tasks, and various workplace obstacles. 

When managers practice patience, they act more respectfully to employees, build trust, and better guide employees to be more productive. 

Patience is key to training new hires, providing constructive feedback, and resolving arguments.

Demonstrating trust

While many managers work hard to become trustworthy, far fewer start by giving their employees trust. 

To employees, this looks like: 

  • Not micromanaging or monitoring them

  • Actively listening to their perspective when production goals aren't met

  • Supporting them in flexible work environments or experimental workflows

By extending trust first, managers can often become more trusted.

Authenticity

A good people manager must have a lot of technical and soft skills to manage their duties. But one of the most important attributes is authenticity. 

Good people managers authentically care about their employees, engage in real active listening, and are driven by organizational goals.

Quick tips for effective people management

Unsure where to start? Incorporate these people management tips into your processes to optimize your approach today:

Respond quickly to communications

Quickly answering emails or instant messages makes employees more likely to reach out to you. Even if you respond with a note saying you've seen their message and will get back to them, a quick response helps.

Focus more on positives than negatives

When you're stressed, it's easy to manage from a place of negativity—you see missed quotas, poor performance, excuses, and unwanted obstacles. 

Before you reach that point, focus on more positives. Highlight reached quotas, recognize when employees master new skills, and celebrate every win.  

Treat each negative as a learning opportunity for you and the team.  

Don't dodge conflict

The sooner you address problems, the easier they are to resolve. Regularly give employees feedback, especially if you see signs of poor performance or interpersonal conflict. 

Don’t hesitate to jump in when you see conflict arise in others if you have something to add or are willing to mediate to find a solution.

How to develop your people management skills

There’s no shortcut for developing people management skills—they take frequent practice and focus. 

To grow as a people manager, set yourself learning and performance goals. This could include taking courses on active listening or technical skills to stay up-to-date in your industry vertical. 

You can also set performance goals such as giving feedback to five employees a week, setting aside a half-hour time slot each week for team chats, and requesting feedback once a week. 

This approach will help you practice and strengthen your people management skills. You’ll also start to fill up your routine with the behaviors and habits of an excellent people manager.

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