• Nicola Ellwood

Why We Need Our People Managers More Than Ever

You’ve probably heard the phrase: “People join organisations but leave their manager.” I know many people with whom that resonates...

Countless HR studies show the number one enabler of employee engagement is the manager; their approach, their behaviour, their communication, the relationships they have with their people and the cultures they create within their team. Managers play a huge part in how people feel at work.

Engaging managers are the difference between thriving organisations and those that struggle, and there are plenty of studies which show that organisations that engage their people are the highest performing.

HR professionals create engagement strategy and it is the manager that makes it happen.

These managers are ‘others centred’ and compassionate. They demonstrate an understanding of what their people are going through and work collaboratively with them to create the conditions for them to thrive and look forward. They have a mindset and skill set that empowers and unlocks potential in others.

Engaging leaders and managers create supportive team environments because their team feel understood, they have a voice and they feel part of things. Such managers and their people skills are needed now more than ever, as we navigate challenging times. People are grappling with everything from isolation to having too much on their plate, changes in their situation or the illness itself.

Imagine knowing in your heart that your teams are engaged, thriving and doing what it takes to make things work for the organisation. Imagine knowing your team are flexing and making the new norm work. You know they are doing this because you know your people managers are capable and competent to help them do it.

So, how can managers be engaging? What does that look like? How can they create the conditions for engagement, and how can they do that right now? Here are a few thoughts on what thriving people managers do and how they can apply that right now.

They demonstrate that they understand their people

Engaging managers are genuinely interested in their colleagues and take time to find out what's going on with them, connect with them and make them feel understood. To demonstrate that they understand, they proactively reach out and make time to properly listen to their colleagues.

In a remote working situation, adjusting to a new normal, this means proactively picking up the phone or organising a Zoom call with your colleagues. Asking how they are and how they are doing, listening to what they have to say and playing back what you’ve heard.

Acknowledge emotions or concerns and explore what can work, collaboratively.

They create psychologically supportive environments

Engaging managers show their authentic selves, feeling comfortable enough to show people who they are, what they think and how they are feeling (yes, they talk about emotions). This behaviour enables their colleague to feel safe to open up and be honest about what’s going on in their head. Psychologically we associate ourselves with people who are like us.

Talking openly about a situation, perhaps sharing vulnerabilities or things that are good, helps people see their manager is not superhuman (or worse – inhuman). Openly going there first and talking about personal experiences helps people feel safe to express what they think and feel. Once it’s out in the open, it can be dealt with.

Right now, people have worries. Openly talking about mutual unknowns and recognising their concerns shows them you are in this together.

Proactively share how the current situation is impacting you, what you are doing to overcome your challenges and what you feel positive about. Where you see people experiencing negative emotions, acknowledge and accept them; we must let people know it’s OK to express themselves. Once you have talked about it, ask how you can help them move forward.

They empower others towards the future

Engaging managers are clear on where they are going and why they are going there. They proactively gain clarity for themselves, then communicate it purposefully to others. They ask and collaborate where possible (rather than telling and demanding). They know the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is up to their people.

As we move towards the future, we may be becoming clear on where we are going – the new norm. Now is the time to collaborate where possible on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Do your people know how important they are in the future? Ask them what the new norm looks like in their opinion and what’s important to them. How do they want to deliver their outcomes? Where do you agree? How can you flex?

They know who they are when they are at their best

Engaging managers are acutely aware of how they impact other people. They know who they are when at their best (the version that others want to work with and be led by). And they do what it takes to show up as that version. They also know the version of themselves they need to manage.

And right now, managers need to consistently demonstrate the communication and behaviours that are their best. They must hold their best self, front and centre, consistently showing up as the leaders our people want to follow into their new future.

They manage themselves and pressures they experience

Engaging managers are emotionally intelligent, managing themselves, their emotions and their behaviour – particularly with their teams. They don’t slip over into a less productive ‘shadow’ version of themselves (the version that may work for them, but not for others). They don’t let their pressures or stresses spill over onto others.

Times like these can bring added pressures so it’s vital you recognise and manage yours. Know what they are and where/who they come from. By recognising pressure, you can make a choice as to how you want to deal with it. It would be unproductive and disengaging to allow pressure you feel to pass on to your team member. Applying pressure at a time where our people are already experiencing a lot won’t work for anyone. You may have heard the phrase ‘communicating up’. If you are experiencing pressure, now is the time to do it.

Based on my conversations with coaching clients, these attributes, behaviours and mindsets are needed by our people more than ever before.

Change fatigue, fear and uncertainty are all things our managers are well placed to support.

Equally, where our people are OK and thriving, their energies need focusing so they are used in the right capacity. Our managers must focus and support if our people are to engage and move forward. Thankfully many of our managers have these skills naturally within them already but those that don’t can be taught and equipped accordingly.

Studies show engaging managers are necessary if you want engaged and happy teams.

There is no such thing is an organisation. It is merely a collective of people all moving towards a common outcome.

How well your organisation navigates and thrives during this time is determined by how well your people do that.

Your managers are key to engagement and now is the time to start using this vital human resource to engage your people to secure your future.


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