Managing People for Growth

photo credit: Henson Consulting Group

Before I dig in, let’s clarify that most talent pros distinguish leadership from management. Rather than pit one concept against the other, I think they are both necessary and complementary, and here’s a great post describing how.

It’s important for managers to help people grow at work because the return on the investment is considerable. One of the most engaging aspects of work is professional development, which is always easier if you have a great people manager for a boss. Highly engaged employees deliver more “discretionary” effort, which means they solve more difficult problems, deliver better quality work, and take better care of customers.

Start Here: be available and be present on a regular basis

Managing people takes actual time and needs to be factored into your work load every week. Managing people is not an “extra” you do on top of other responsibilities. It’s a primary activity that gives you leverage to get more done, deliver higher performance, and achieve superior results. If you are still an individual contributor in addition to managing people, and you don’t have time for your direct reports, you need to address that first.

This is true at ALL LEVELS (I’m looking at you CEO’s). Everyone at work needs to discuss priorities, trade-offs, barriers, and conflicts; and get perspective, advice, and support. This is the best thing people managers can offer their direct reports. Discussing the priority and quality of work is the purpose of 1:1’s, not slogging through a tick-by-tick update of an activity list. While it’s useful to keep a shared list of activities for each direct report, it’s a value destroying activity to simply run down the list every week, getting into the details of what did and did not happen.

For a value-adding approach, here’s a few questions that get you deeper into a developmental dialogue:

  • What is the most important thing on your list this week?
  • What’s getting in the way of you accomplishing that?
  • What can I do to help you get it done successfully?

For more on conducting high value 1:1’s check out this treasure trove of advice from Claire Lew at Know Your Company.

Level Up: adjust your approach based on the other person’s needs

If it’s not zero, how much time does it take to manage people? That depends largely on the readiness and needs of the people reporting to you. While making time is a requirement of being a good manager-coach, the amount of time is not a predictor of impact (i.e. more time is not necessarily better). A research study by Gardner to evaluate coaching quality identified 4 coaching profiles comprised of 90 variables. Their research found that the most effective style was not the most time consuming. In fact, the most time-consuming approach was the least effective. The most effective style was about making connections between an employee’s needs and a wide variety of resources.

“Being a Connector is more about asking the right questions, providing tailored feedback, and helping employees make a connection to a colleague who can help them.”

The classic way to guide your coaching behavior is the “tried and true” Situational Leadership model originated by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey (sadly they conflate the terms leadership and management). This framework helps you identify the needs of your direct reports and adjust your approach to match them using one these four styles:

Become a Master: embrace the management paradox

We all like simplicity, and whenever possible our brains like us to respond with formulas, so we can reserve deep thinking for the highest value puzzles we might face. Managing people may just be the highest value puzzle, so shifting your energy from task-oriented problem solving to people-oriented problem solving can pay back immensely as you move up in your career or your company increases in scale and complexity.

Accepting that managing people is a complex, dynamic, multiplistic scenario requires you to use your best emotional intelligence and continuous effort to be present with each person in each moment. In a word, people are messy. If there’s one thing I learned in graduate school, it’s this statement written on the board by Professor Charles F. Luna: “Things that matter are messy.” I guess here I’m calling people things, but you get the point. If you want to be successful managing people, you have to deal with messy.

Master people managers are able to see any interaction as an opportunity to help a person learn and grow. The problem with people is that growth is almost always uncomfortable and therefore we both crave it and resist it. It gets exponentially harder if you are operating in a business environment with deadlines, safety standards, excellence values, and demanding customers.

To be successful helping people grow, you must embrace the paradox of being both compassionate and demanding. Simultaneously. Use the Management Paradox chart to help you guide your behavior over time. It’s not a recipe, it’s a framework… helpful to diagnose, debrief, or discuss this messy aspect of managing people.

Good luck!