How to Manage People

An executive exhibits strong change leadership skills.

Increased automation has fundamentally changed the way organizations manage people. Technical advances have shifted the workplace from one that depended on site-specific laborers to one that increasingly relies on knowledge workers who can work autonomously or collaboratively from anywhere.

At the same time, many workers cite a toxic work environment as a primary factor when deciding whether to seek employment elsewhere. Taken together, these factors point to one conclusion: Knowing how to manage people well has become more important than ever.

It’s estimated that 65 percent of the functions managers undertake may be automated in the coming years. So how do today’s managers master the skills needed to learn how to manage effectively in a rapidly changing workplace? These five steps can assure effective employee management:

  1. Get to know your team.
  2. Connect your team’s work to your company mission.
  3. Create a culture of open communication.
  4. Build trust with transparency and compassion.
  5. Learn to navigate workplace relationships.

Why Knowing How to Manage People Matters

Early management theory tended to view workers as just one more part of the machinery of commerce. But automation has streamlined and often replaced many former labor and even management functions, freeing up time for effective relationship building to improve employee potential and retention.

Today’s management research makes clear that a good manager can have a cascading effect on all their direct reports and any colleagues they come into contact with. A bad manager can have a just as far-ranging effect, poisoning the workplace for everyone unlucky enough to cross their path. Productivity can slip, engagement can dwindle, and so can employee retention. Top performers and potential leaders can be lost for good, all because one of your company’s leaders didn’t know how to manage people effectively.

If you are new to team leadership, or you suspect your past approach to management has not been as effective as you’d like, you’ll want to take stock of your own strengths and values. What qualities have you most appreciated in your own past mentors? Whatever leadership style you choose to embrace, you will need to master the following steps to guide your team to success.

Step 1. Get to Know Your Team

Set up one-on-ones to learn what inspires and motivates your direct reports. Ask about their long-term goals and how they like to work. At this stage of learning how to manage people, it’s useful to find out about each employee’s short and long-term career goals to help guide you as you map out their assignments and training opportunities.

Step 2. Align Your Team’s Goals With Your Company Mission

Your team may be integral to producing or selling your company’s core product line or service, or it may provide a support role to those that do. Either way, your task is to make it clear to your team how their time and talent contributes to your organization’s core mission. Helping them understand why the company’s core values matter will help you motivate them toward success.

When you set team and individual goals, make sure that you always draw a direct line back to the company’s overall goals. Make sure each task has a deadline and build accountability into assignments. Once each new task is accomplished, keep your team members in the loop on how their work is helping the company come closer to achieving its incremental goals on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis, as well as how their efforts are supporting broader organizational values.

Step 3. Create Open Lines of Communication

Effective managers check in with individual team members frequently, providing honest feedback, constructive criticism and praise for work well done. This goes both ways. Managers should seek honest feedback from their direct reports in a variety of ways, including:

  • By creating safe spaces for honest communication and offering allyship when appropriate.
  • Conducting short, frequent, confidential employee surveys.
  • Hosting frequent small group and one-on-one check-ins.

Step 4. Build Trust

One of the most effective ways to build trust is to resist the urge to micromanage. By delegating important tasks to your team based on their strengths and areas of greatest potential, you show them that you trust them to deliver.

When mistakes are made, have your employees’ backs. Show compassion and coach them on how to repair the mistake or avoid it in the future. It’s also helpful to admit your own mistakes. Other ways to promote trust include:

  • Advocating to make sure your team has the resources they need.
  • Using a salary calculator to ensure that all members of your team are fairly compensated.
  • Sharing information about the company’s fiscal health that might affect them whenever feasible.
  • Making sure that the promotion process is fair and transparent.
  • Sharing progress on company initiatives like diversity hiring and sustainability, and admitting when these and other goals are failing to be met.

It is critical to be as honest and forthcoming as possible: If your team catches you in a lie, you’ll lose credibility and trust.

Step 5. Learn to Manage Employee Relationships

Great managers have a knack for navigating interpersonal relationships. They know how to build and strengthen the bonds between coworkers and heal rifts between team members and departments through diplomacy and effective negotiation and communication.

Hiring for Your Team

If you have the luxury of building your team from the ground up, or adding new hires to an existing team, you’ll want to consider your current skills gaps, including whether your current team could use a peacemaker, a coalition builder, or a motivator. After all, shaping your team can be as critical as managing them.

Since a growing body of research shows that businesses that incorporate the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into their hiring practice outperform those that don’t, you’ll also want to employ the following DEI best practices:

  • Craft inclusive job descriptions.
  • Emphasize your DEI goals and initiatives in all recruitment-focused materials as well as prominently on your company web site.
  • Expand your hiring pipeline and applicant pool through strategic partnerships.
  • Rethink your interview and hiring processes to address unintended bias.

Learn More About How to Manage, How to Hire, and How to Succeed

Learning how to manage people is just part of the picture. Expert advice, actionable how-tos, and the latest hiring news can guide you to success.