The Art of People Management

There’s lots of talk in the social media world these days about leadership – who has it, how to demonstrate it, whether it’s a trait you’re born with or a skill you can learn – while the notion of management continues to be downplayed. Management lost its luster back in the 1980s when leadership experts like Warren Bennis drew a finite distinction between leadership and management. In his seminal work, On Becoming A Leader, first published in 1989, Bennis writes:

  • The manager administers, the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy, the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains, the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structures, the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when, the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

I don’t know about you, but when I read through this list, it makes my eyes pop – the leader is an original, his or her own person with a long-range view, while the manager is a copy, a classic good soldier with a short range-view?!? Really? I think these perspectives are antiquated and just don’t hold up to our 21st century work environment. The exponential growth of social entrepreneurs is a testament to individuals who are all leading and managing enterprises, many of their own creation. Nonprofit CEOs today have to be effective leaders and managers both, and they especially have to be great motivators of people in order to rally a community around a cause and a new vision.

Team Image.jpg

This post, then, is about people management – how to bring out the best in your teams and retain your talented employees – because there’s a clear-cut need to convert the strategic visions of leaders into implementable actions by those they lead. That’s what I mean by management.

Like Bennis notes about leadership, people management is a skill set that can be learned, and lessons can be found everywhere – in books, classrooms, webinars, and on the job. I’ve often told my staff that you can learn even from bad managers about what not to do simply by paying attention to what works and what doesn’t to motivate employees.

Here are five things that I’ve found are key to effective people management:

  1. Provide clarity about expectations. It’s one thing to have a strategic plan that charts an organization’s future course, and it’s another to put that plan into tactical action. Prioritizing what needs to be done by when and why is helpful to everyone, especially subordinates charged with implementation. Leader/managers who clearly communicate roles, responsibilities and deliverables leave little room for misinterpretation of individual and team performance expectations.
  2. Be both coach and mentor. It’s not enough to tell your staffers what you expect. You also have to ensure that they have the talent, tools and resources to do their jobs well and produce great results. Do they need additional training or professional development to assume new duties? Do they have the proper systems or data management tools to work efficiently? Do they have access to outside colleagues and professional associations to enable peer-to-peer learning? As a leader/manager, it’s your responsibility to be attentive to their needs, provide guidance and encouragement, assess periodic progress, and empower your teams to produce with quality at or beyond capacity. 
  3. Ensure autonomy and ownership. People do their best work when they’re given the freedom to “own” and be accountable for their work. According to professors Marylène Gagné and Devasheesh Bhave at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, autonomy produces “greater employee commitment, better performance, improved productivity and lower turnover.” Creativity and innovation flourish in a macro-managed environment. Let your folks know what’s expected, be available as a resource, and then step back and allow them to step up and take initiative. 
  4. Give recognition and credit. One of the most effective staff motivational tools is also relatively simple to undertake at low cost. Acknowledging excellent work and giving public credit for jobs well done instill a sense of employee pride and confidence, foster loyalty, and return to the bottom line in enhanced performance. Those of us who preach the art of stewardship will not be at all surprised that new research, as reported in this recent article by Josh Bersin in Forbes, shows that saying “thank you” has enormous impact. He outlines the five most effective employee acknowledgement strategies: recognition based on specific results; peer-to-peer recognition; public recognition through storytelling in e-newsletters and blogs; regular and easy to administer staff recognition programs; and recognition linked to organizational mission and goals.
  5. Promote from within. Instead of routinely looking outside for new talent, focus on developing your current employees so they can grow in both their jobs and their professions. Developing leaders at every level within your organization contributes to a sense of shared leadership and makes transparent institutional values of collaboration and partnership. A 2012 study by UPenn’s Wharton School assistant professor Matthew Bidwell confirms that it also makes good business sense because current employees are better acclimated to organizational culture and outperform external hires in their first two years on the job. (And here’s another important point if you do hire externally – good leader/managers help to orient their new employees and understand organizational culture in order give them every chance for success in the new environment.)

Most employees will tell you that there’s no better sense of achievement than producing when they know what’s expected of them, when they receive regular feedback that reassures they’re on the right track, when they have mastery over their work, and when they’re recognized and promoted for delivering results. And as the leader/manager, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve aided your team’s success, as well as their professional development.