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People Management: A Full Guide Including 10 Top Skills

Human Resources should be the experts on the people side of the business – the people management. But, managing people isn’t something that’s limited to the HR department only. In today’s article, we zoom in on people management; we give a definition, look at the so-called 5 c’s, and we list ten of the most important people management skills for 2021 and beyond. Let’s get started!

What is people management?
The 5 c’s of people management
Why good people management matters
10 most important people management skills

What is people management?

People management is the process of overseeing the training, development, motivation, and day-to-day management of employees. Typically, managers are responsible for people management in their departments, but depending on the business structure, other departments may help.

For instance, if you have a chief of staff, that person focuses on the people management side of things while department heads concentrate on the work product. There is an overlap between these functions, and for good people management to occur, both the project and the people side must function correctly.

The Human Resources department often serves as a sort of subject matter expert in the realm of people management. They can serve as a resource to managers and the people who look out for the employees as a whole. This is why you’ll often find learning and development as key functions for the HR department. They work to build succession plans and create job descriptions to facilitate the success of the people. Compensation also plays a crucial role when it comes to the management of people.

The 5 C’s of people management 

People management can be summarized in five categories – all beginning with the letter C. By looking at these ideas; you can learn the central constructs of people management.

  1. Clarity. A key part of management is giving people instructions. Clarity makes it possible for employees to precisely understand what they need to do and how to do it. This does not mean micromanagement, where a manager unnecessarily spells out every step and hovers while the employee completes them. This gives clear, concise information so the employee knows what the manager expects. It gives everyone a sense of security, knowing what they need to do. 
  2. Context. An oft-cited phrase is “what you do for one; you do for all.” While this makes sense in terms of fairness, it denies the very real context necessary for good people management. What else is going on?
    For instance, an employee may struggle with punctuality. A supervisor with weak people management skills would simply note each absence and then fire the employee when they reached the limit allowed by policy. A leader focused on people management would approach the employee and see what was going on. It could be a case of the employee merely getting up too late in the morning, or the employee could have a serious issue that the manager can either help resolve or find a solution for. For instance, if an employee commutes by public transportation and the bus connections change, tardiness is out of the employee’s control. It is probably worth it to adjust the employee’s official schedule by 15 minutes.
    Context is also critical when conducting an investigation, for instance, as a part of a grievance procedure. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and a fair investigation looks at the situation’s context and content.
  3. Consistency. Parenting books talk about setting schedules for your children and following through with consequences. People management is the same way – just with bigger kids. 
    When you explain that the priorities are A, B, and C, and then ask why no one has completed C yet, employees lose trust in their managers. When you tell employees that if they complete all their certifications, they’ll receive a 2 percent pay bump, and then that doesn’t happen, you affect their engagement. Why should they work hard to reach goals when the manager isn’t consistent?
  4. Courage. Typically, people managers earn more than individual contributors, and courage is one of those reasons. It can be challenging to sit down with an employee and tell the employee he needs to change. Letting someone know their behavior is inappropriate can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Of course, there are those times when you have to have a hygiene discussion with an employee. Every people manager fears those conversations.
    You also need to decide who to promote, who to rate “fails to meet expectations,” and sometimes terminate an employee for poor performance. While it may seem kind to ignore employees’ faults and failings, a manager has a responsibility towards the company and the other employees. Ignoring an employee who bullies and harasses other employees may be the easy way out, but it’s not good management. It destroys the department’s morale and can eventually damage the company. The courage to do what is right is critical.
  5. Commitment. Good management doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and patience. You have to plan and prepare for the future and correct things when they go wrong. When you decide to undertake a new project (or your boss assigns one) or hire a new employee, the finished project or the fully trained employee doesn’t appear overnight. You need a commitment to the process and the people. Otherwise, there will not be effective people management.

Why good people management matters

People don’t leave companies; they leave managers. How true this depends on who asks the survey question, but without a doubt, managers play a vital role in turnover. And it’s not just the direct managers – but everyone involved in managing people. 

A Human Resources department that doesn’t provide guidance and direction, doesn’t provide training, and doesn’t advocate for the employees will also make for a poor environment.

People want good leaders for their management. They want clarity, context, consistency, courage, and commitment from their leaders. Without this, you won’t have employee buy-in or engagement. You can indeed find people who will come to work and do the assigned jobs, but your turnover will be high, and your productivity will be low.

If you’re concerned about the cost of training, developing employees, or helping everyone set annual performance goals, remember that the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees will (massively) exceed this cost.

Good managers make for good companies. Solid employee support will pay off.

10 Top people management skills

In addition to the five C’s of people management, these skills are necessary for good people managers too:

  1. Managing by performance. In March of 2020, everyone who could work at home began to work at home. It’s unlikely that everyone will be back in the office by January 2021. This means managers must know how to judge an employee’s work not by their face time, but by the employee’s results. This may be a switch for some managers.
  2. Planning. It may seem difficult to plan in this rapidly changing landscape (we recently wrote an article about how HR can prepare for 2021), but people management requires managers to plan for multiple contingencies. This will continue to be important in 2021.
  3. Mentoring. Most employees want to progress in their careers and will appreciate a manager who takes the time to mentor them and helps them to succeed.
  4. Problem-solving. In 2020, companies had to learn how to telecommute, rearrange factory floors, work with masks, and comply with ever-changing government health regulations. This is a critical people management skill going forward. These rapid changes won’t end. Even in more subdued times, problem-solving is a crucial skill in people management. Not only do you have to solve problems with projects, but you need to work together with employees to come to solutions.
  5. Communication. This skill is always at the top of people management. Letting employees know essential information quickly and clearly can be the difference between a supportive team and a rebellion.
  6. Feedback–Giving. Good people management requires managers to give feedback – positive and negative. If a manager allows an employee to make the same mistake repeatedly, it can damage the company brand or turn other employees against you. If a manager ignores employees’ successes, employees will grow bitter. Good people managers need to provide feedback in an accurate, kind, and timely way.
  7. Feedback – Receiving. Feedback can come from their superiors, customers, or direct reports. All this information needs to be processed, and the manager determines what they should or should not change. It can be challenging to sort out the competing voices, and doing the right thing sometimes means challenging a department head. This can require courage, but ultimately using feedback in the proper way results in better people management.
  8. Creativity. You don’t need to paint or play the piano to be creative. Creativity comes in the form of problem-solving, solution-finding, new product development, and feedback facilitating. Again, as we head into the second year of a global pandemic, good people managers will continue to find creative solutions to the situations at hand.
  9. Understanding stakeholders. There is a balance between employees and projects and between management and clients. Employees need a manager’s guidance on how to value each stakeholder. Sometimes the stakeholders in a project may not be clear – and this can result in a manager placing the wrong emphasis on project completion. This can put an employee at risk, which is bad people management.
  10. Emotional intelligence. Everyone is in a state of prolonged stress and crisis, which is not likely to go away soon. A people manager with emotional intelligence looks for when people are at their limits and looks for ways to fix it. Someone with good emotional intelligence also knows their own limitations and looks for their own failings to correct them. Emotional intelligence is a key to effective collaboration in the workplace and will continue to be a critical skill as we head into 2021.

Good people management is crucial for your employees’ engagement, retention, and development. As Human Resources should be the expert on the people side of the business, they play an important role in providing guidance, direction, and training to those who are busy managing people on a daily basis and, by extension, the success of the business.

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