How to be a Good People Manager

How to be a Good People Manager

50 Powerful Ways to Become a Better Manager

If you can’t manage people, you can’t manage.

Life as a manager is challenging, and what works in one team, or with one individual, rarely applies to all.

The key to managing well is understanding people.

You need to know what makes them tick, what motivates them, and when and how they’re at their most productive.

That’s often easier said than done.

You also can’t neglect your own motivations and development, as career progression doesn’t stop when you reach that coveted management role.

To help you get to grips to the tricky world of management, and to be the best people manager you can be, we’ve put together the ultimate list of 50 tips for you.

Our 50 tips fall into these categories:

Be human

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1. Be interested

Get to know your team, and we mean really know them.

Who do they live with, what’s their family background, what’s their dog’s name?

Ask questions, listen to the answers, and remember details.

Find out about their life outside of work, what’s important to them, and then do what you can to recognise and protect it.

  • Do they cherish Saturdays with their family?
  • Avoid asking them to work weekends.
  • Are certain evenings the only time they get with their spouse?
  • Send them home early that day when you can.
  • Do they have children?
  • Be mindful of their childcare arrangements.

Often the smallest gestures can have the greatest impact.

2. Be approachable

Talk to your team every day, even if it’s just a ‘Good morning, how are you today?

Always be in touch, be accessible and approachable.

Be one of the team, don’t set yourself above them, or ask them to do things you wouldn’t.

Make time for them, make it clear that you care about their ideas and experiences at work, that you value their work and their input.

3. Be calm and collected

Don’t take yourself or the role too seriously, nobody likes working for a boss who is uptight and can’t relax.

A smile goes a long way.

Tension and stress are contagious – if you’re anxious and highly strung, worrying about next month’s figures and exuding panic, this will filter down to your team.

4. Admit your mistakes

Trying to appear perfect implies you expect perfection from your team, and nobody can live up to that.

Be honest and set an example.

Never pass the blame down the hierarchy to try to appear infallible – whether they’re brave enough to say it or not, your team will know if something was your fault.

Don’t lose their respect by shirking responsibility; show them how to own mistakes, learn from them and move forward.

5. Make wellbeing a priority

Take time off and make wellbeing a priority.

This is as much for your team’s benefit as your own – you don’t want to contribute to the idea that to be successful and reach higher levels of management in your organisation you need to work all hours and always be ‘on’.

If your team see you taking holiday and prioritising downtime so that you can bring your best self to work, they won’t be concerned about putting their own wellbeing first when they need to.

Stressed and tired managers are not good managers and don’t make good decisions.

Your team won’t thank you for turning up to work every day if you’re irritable and impatient!

“Stress and anxiety at work have less to do with the work we do and more to do with weak management and leadership.” 

Simon Sinek

6. Be flexible

Bend the rules and mix things up.

It’s fine to break the routine once in a while.

In fact, it’s beneficial to disrupt predictable patterns of behaviour to avoid getting stuck in a rut.

Is it 26 degrees and sunny outside? Take that meeting out to the local park.

Or, even better, reschedule for tomorrow and finish up early.

Someone’s used their holiday allowance but an important family event has cropped up? Let them borrow from their next quarter.

Don’t stick rigidly to plans and rules if common sense suggests a different path.

Get the most out of your people

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7. Strike a balance

An effective team is a balanced team.

Good managers make sure the right people are in the right jobs, and that the team is multidimensional.

You want a range of complementary roles and skills, different personality types, and a good split of different ages and genders.

You want your team to challenge each other, add value, and voice different opinions and perspectives.

8. Listen

A balanced team provides no benefits if their ideas and perspectives aren’t heard.

Actively listen to what they say.

Give people your full attention, hear them out and, where relevant, show that you’ve taken their views on board.

9. Adjust your style

Find out what motivates your team, their work goals and aims, then think about how you can support them to help them be their best self and achieve those goals.

  • Do they respond best to targets and incentives, or to autonomy and responsibility?
  • What are their pain points?
  • Who do they work best/worst with?
  • Understand their preferences, and manage them accordingly.

You might need to adopt a slightly different management style for certain members of your team.

Be flexible and accommodating and you’ll get the best out of everyone.

10. Don’t hire talent, develop it

Psychologists have claimed innate talent is a myth, and with some rare and very specific exceptions, most people can be trained to do anything.

You can, of course, hire people who are very good at what they do, and for practical reasons you will expect a certain base level of knowledge and experience.

But in terms of talent, this is often shaped by the environment.

A star in one company may stagnate in another.

You should be aiming to bring out the best in people and help them grow, not hiring someone who has already plateaued.

It will also motivate your team to work hard if they perceive there to be promotion and progression opportunities, rather than seeing more senior roles filled by external candidates.

11. Encourage knowledge sharing

Mix up teams and get people to cover different roles and areas when people are on holiday or off sick.

This facilitates a broad awareness and knowledge of what happens in all areas of the team:

What the workload is like.

What skills can be applied elsewhere.

What specialist insight people have.

This helps to inject new life into projects and get fresh perspectives.

If relevant or possible, implement this across departments and hierarchies to get a truly holistic workforce in tune with each other’s activities and goals.

12. Push their comfort zone

Challenge people.

Make them do things they’re scared of.

When they doubt themselves, show that you believe in them and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone.

Part of your role is to help your staff grow – not everyone will do this independently.

13. Reward success

This isn’t always about the big milestones.

Reward the day-to-day achievements, the personal goals reached and targets exceeded.

It doesn’t have to be big or expensive.

A simple ‘well done’ to recognise a small win goes a long way.

Never, ever take people’s efforts for granted, and always say ‘thank you’!

14. Continually raise standards

If your team is consistently meeting their targets, don’t stop at a pat on the back and set the same target for the next week, month, or year.

Don’t let your team stagnate.

They’ve shown how good they are, and you know they can do even better.

Keep pushing standards higher to show you believe in their ability to continually improve.

They’ll want to live up to your high expectations.

15. Step in at the right moment

Learn to spot when people need help, whether that’s technical support, encouragement and reassurance, or they’re weighed down by an unfairly heavy workload that’s gone unnoticed. Not everyone will ask for help, don’t let anyone become a martyr!

Be the best you can be

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16. Keep learning

You should be continually working to develop your skills and competencies.

In particular, you should be an excellent communicator, and able to motivate, lead, and inspire your team.

Learn all the time.

  • Read management books.
  • Attend seminars.
  • Keep up with research in your field.
  • Watch TED talks.

The world is constantly moving forward and evolving.

Be a shining example of continuous professional development.

17. Get a mentor or a coach

Mentors and coaches do not do the same thing, so first understand the difference, and decide which you need.

Find someone you admire, trust and who has time.

It should be someone a few years ahead of you in their management career, and ideally someone with mentoring or coaching experience.

Ask them nicely, and explain that you would like to learn from their wisdom and experience.

It should not be a big commitment for either of you, just a few hours per month. Agree what is expected of them upfront.

Listen carefully and note their approach and the types of points they raise.

A good manager will also be a coach for their team, so learn from your own coach and do the same for your team.

18. Question everything

Be open to new perspectives and knowledge, and avoid confirmation bias (looking for views that support your own).

Question everything, make your own judgements and ensure all your decisions are based on sound, scrutinised knowledge and that you understand the data underlying it.

Don’t rely on someone else’s conclusions and certainly never believe the first thing you hear.

19. Encourage feedback

Receive (and give) feedback.

Whether it’s through anonymous surveys or one to one meetings, ask your team what you’re doing right, and how you could better support, lead, and develop them.

You can’t expect to receive and not give in return.

Be sure you communicate, in a positive way, how staff are progressing, recognise their improvements, and suggest areas for further development.

20. Learn from mistakes

Learn from your mistakes – and those of others.

Who was the worst boss you ever had?

What did they do that made them such a nightmare to work for?

Home in on what people don’t want in a manager, and make sure that’s not you!

When mistakes are made in the team, highlight these as learning opportunities.

Don’t apportion blame, ask what did ‘we’ do wrong here, and what can ‘we’ do differently next time? 

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Albert Einstein

21. Leverage technology

Keep up with and use technology.

Keep your finger on the pulse and share with your team any tools, hacks and techniques that might make their day-to-day easier.

Facilitate even closer and more effective teamwork by taking advantage of online collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello, Asana, and Monday, and use video conferencing for remote workers.

These open up new environments for teamwork that don’t require people to be in the same room, which is also great for feeling more connected to any members of your team who work remotely.

22. Demonstrate a ‘can-do’ attitude

Be positive and proactive, and create a working environment that reflects that.

Never come to work with a negative attitude, or let your bad day affect others.

An office should be full of positive, can-do attitudes, and that starts with you!

23. Focus on the customer

The success of any team depends largely on how well they can satisfy their end customers’ needs, whoever that may be.

As the team leader, you must develop a customer-focused culture where all actions go some way toward ultimately enhancing customer satisfaction.

Be strategic

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24. Make time for people management

Organisation and time management skills are essential.

If you’re in a flap and spinning too many plates, you can’t keep things ticking over smoothly for everyone else.

Delegate where you can, so you can focus on people management.

If someone comes to you with a problem, you need to have the time and mental space to assist them.

Make sure you always know where you’re at so that a crisis or problem within the team or externally won’t derail you and hinder progress.

25. Accept that plans change

Rarely does a plan go to plan.

Often, the information you base your plans on can turn out to be inaccurate or the situation different to expected.

Prioritise people over plans.

Your people are your constant; it’s them who will make sure everything stays together when plans have to change. Train yourself and your team to be adaptable, proactive problem-solvers.

26. Don’t micromanage

When you focus on controlling your team, you lose sight of your own role and contribution.

You’re not there to monitor everything your staff are doing and keep them in check.

You’re there to support them in performing their role… themselves!

And in keeping everyone’s efforts in line with the larger company objectives and vision.

Micromanaging wastes your time, fails to harness the best of your abilities and will drag your performance down.

Empower your team and delegate well so you can be more hands-off.

27. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise

Prioritise your workload and the team’s workload.

Not everything is urgent, and not everything can be done at once.

An overworked team is not a productive or successful one.

If you’re managing an environment where everything has to be done yesterday, don’t be surprised if people start transferring to other teams, or leaving altogether.

Be reasonable, prioritise, and give your team the time and space to perform at their best.

Have you considered acting like a hedgehog?

28. Take (calculated) risks

Inspire confidence and innovation among your team by showing that you’re not afraid to take risks and think outside the box so that they will too.

This demonstrates and promotes courage and innovative thinking, which can unlock huge potential if others feel empowered to do the same.

29. Find and address the root cause

Focus on solutions… not problems.

When things go wrong, don’t dwell on the bad, or worry about who’s to blame.

Focus on how the problem can be fixed so that the project or task can move forward.

It’s important here to look for the root cause of a problem, rather than short-term solutions.

Why has this situation occurred?

How can we stop it from happening again?

“Don’t find the fault, find the remedy”

Henry Ford

30. Involve your team

Utilise your team and involve them in your decision-making.

Combined, they likely have more experience, skills, and knowledge than you – recognise this, collate it, and use it.

31. Time-box admin

Set aside windows of time for answering emails and taking care of other admin – perhaps one hour in the morning, and one hour before you leave.

Checking in all day every day isn’t productive or efficient.

It’s a procrastinator’s dream

It also sets unrealistic expectations of fast response times.

Add a line to your email signature explaining that you’ll reply to emails between X and Y each day, and to call for anything urgent.

This also means you give more thorough, considered responses, which is far more helpful for your team.

32. Lead the change

Don’t be afraid to change tack if something isn’t working.

This is your prerogative as manager.

Your team are looking to you for guidance and decision-making.

If something doesn’t feel right or isn’t getting results, make a call and try something new.

Always look for ways to improve the way you and your team operate and then lead the change to make sure it happens.

33. Deal with difficult situations

Sometimes you’re going to need to manage difficult situations.

Staff conflicts or negative behaviour have a tendency to escalate so be sure to deal with these fairly and assertively.

If a member of your team is underperforming, don’t be tempted to sweep it under the carpet.

Instead, actively manage the situation by first discussing the issue with the person involved, try to understand why it is happening, and put a plan in place to get that person back on track.

Set goals

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34. Set both performance and development goals

Encourage continuous goal setting, for individuals and as a team.

As well as setting performance-related goals, why not ask people where they want to be in six months, one year, and five years, then hold them to account with relevant development goals.

Check-in on their progress and show that you’re invested in helping them to achieve those goals with on-the-job experiences or external training courses.

All goals should be clear and unambiguous.

Consider using the SMART approach for goal setting to ensure goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

35. Set management goals

Set your own team management goals.

Find personal reward in progressing and developing your team.

Their wins are yours, too.

How many of your team have had promotions?

What’s your staff retention rate?

What feedback are you getting from your team?

Think of some goals and areas for improvement, write them down, and try to better them each year.

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”

Ralph Nader

36. Share your goals

Be open about your personal targets and goals, what you’re trying to achieve with the team, or what milestones you are expected to reach, and when.

Let your team know that you depend on them as much as they on you.

Communicating these goals allows them to trickle down to the team level.

Everyone should be aware of how their day to day work contributes to and impacts on the wider goals of the company.

37. Use data

There are a huge amount of tools, indicators, and metrics that you can use to track and measure progress towards your team’s goals.

They can also help to identify specific areas of strength and weakness in your team.

Sharing key data and ensuring certain stats are accessible/visible all the time will motivate your team and ensure they know where they’re at.

It also saves you time communicating regular progress updates.

38. Review progress regularly

Check-in with every member of your team through regular one-to-ones.

Discuss their goals and their progress with current tasks and projects.

Do this in a private, confidential environment so they feel free to express any concerns or issues they might not want to raise more publicly.

You can use these sessions to highlight, informally, any potential worries you have about their performance or behaviour to give them an opportunity to rectify or address these without feeling blindsided by a more official warning or reprimand.

Represent the company

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39. Care about the company

To be a good manager, you need to care about the company, its vision, your team, and your role.

If you’re not right for the company, or not right for the role, you won’t care.

If you don’t care, you won’t inspire your team, no matter how technically skilled you are in management.

While junior staff can get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day, you need to keep the organisation’s mission, strategy and values at the front of your mind.

It’s essential that you get behind these – even if you don’t completely agree with them.

Negativity inspires no one.

Your role is to guide a team with different skills and focuses in the same direction, toward a shared goal.

40. Understand and follow company policy

Whilst it’s okay to occasionally bend the rules (see point six), it’s still your role to uphold company standards, to be clear about policy and rules and consistent in your application (exceptional circumstances aside).

Make your expectations clear.

Stress that these are your expectations, not just the company’s, and that you expect certain rules to be followed and behaviours upheld.

A good example is absence – you should have a clear policy on holiday allowance and other absences, and manage this conscientiously so you don’t end up with a disgruntled employee trying to carry the workload of a whole team that’s booked the same week off.

41. Manage upwards

Whilst you need to represent the company in your team, you are also your team’s representative in the company.

Manage upwards as well as down.

Ensure the team’s stakeholders are aware of and understand the team’s hard work and progress.

If the team is under-resourced or over-burdened, it’s your job to communicate this upwards so that it doesn’t reflect badly on your team, especially if they’re feeling the pressure.

42. Communication is key

Encourage communication across the team, passing on information externally or to other teams, taking in information shared by other departments in the organisation, and understanding what other teams in different areas are doing. 

No one should be working in isolation.

Connectivity and communication across the company helps to keep morale and motivation high, as well as providing a circle of accountability.

43. Command respect

Remember that you are the link between your team and the company.

If they don’t respect you, they don’t respect the company.

Whilst it’s important to be friendly, you can’t always be a friend.

Your team must respect you, first and foremost.

There will be times when you need to make difficult decisions, manage conflicts, and engage in disciplinary procedures.

Any perceived personal relationship or allegiance makes these situations a million times harder than they should be, so it’s essential to establish boundaries.

Be fair, honest, transparent and ethical

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44. Lead by example

Lead by example to build genuine relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and hold your team to account by calling out any behaviour that doesn’t meet these standards.

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves”

Ray Kroc

45. Value people’s time

Just because you’re higher up the food chain, doesn’t make your time more valuable or make you more deserving of respect.

If you schedule a meeting or a call with someone, even if they are more junior or report to you…

Stick to it.

Respect people’s time, their workload and their schedule so they never feel unimportant, undermined, or disregarded.

46. Discourage rivalry

Encourage friendly competition, but not rivalry.

Don’t pitch people against each other to try and drive results.

You want team members who work together, not against each other vying for pole position.

47. Show you care

Make your team’s challenges and problems your priority.

If a member of your team has any issues or concerns with their work and brings these to you, do everything you can to resolve them quickly.

Ensure they know that helping them do their jobs and succeed at work is your top priority.

“the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”

Simon Sinek

48. Practise what you preach

You may be managing the team, but you’re also part of it.

Be a role model, set a good example, and don’t do things you wouldn’t tolerate in your team.

If you’re asking your team to work late to meet a deadline, make sure you’re the last to leave.

Be prepared to get your hands dirty and don’t ask people to do anything you wouldn’t.

49. Stay professional

Don’t voice frustrations about colleagues to anyone on your team, stick to your superiors and your other half!

This undermines your position and authority, and the relationships that members of your team have with their colleagues.

If criticism is valid, take it directly to the person concerned.

Venting your frustrations is not only unethical, but it also breeds resentment and creates suspicion and tension, as people wonder what you might have said about them…

50. Take responsibility

Sometimes you might need to fall on your sword and take one for the team.

If something goes wrong, a target is missed, a pitch lost, don’t blame your team.

Give them credit for and celebrate their successes but shield them from criticism and blame when they fall short.

Your team is your responsibility, and part of being an effective people manager is accepting that responsibility in good times and in bad.


Conclusion

Whether you’ve been a manager for twenty years, or you’ve just been hired or promoted into a new management role, we’re sure that you’ll find some valuable pointers above.

Learning is at the heart of all success.

Learn about management, certainly, but more importantly learn about yourself and about your team.

Good managers don’t stand still; always be looking for ways to get the best out of yourself and your team, and in no time you’ll be receiving great feedback from both above and below.

Good luck and remember…

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