People Management – The Definitive Guide

Mar 3, 2022 | Employee Engagement, Performance Management, Professional Development

People management plays a critical role in a team’s success. And managers have a deciding role in engagement. “Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in their team’s engagement,” says Gallup. However, just one in five employees says their manager motivates them to do exceptional work.

By ramping up your people management skills game, you’ll build a productive and engaged team. Let’s explore why—and how it’s done.


1. What Is People Management

2. Different People Management Styles

3. Best People Management Practices

4. Outdated Styles of People Management

What Is People Management

People management encompasses every aspect of managing staff. From initial training and onboarding to fostering long-term growth, it guides how teams perform. We’ll examine several overarching styles of management that can prove effective. Then, we’ll explore best practices that will benefit any manager.

Different People Management Styles

Great managers can follow one of several people management styles. Jaime Roca and Sari Wilde outline four in The Connector Manager:

  1. Teacher – relies on personal experience to impart lessons.
  2. Always On – uses continuous feedback and coaching.
  3. Connector – introduces employees to other people and resources who can benefit their growth.
  4. Cheerleader – empowers employees to take charge of their own development.

Does one of these styles best describe you? Note that each of them takes a positive, supportive approach. As a result, each can foster employees’ development effectively. If you gravitate towards one, consider how to play into your strengths. If you’re a teacher, spend time journaling about your relevant experience. It will then come to mind when you need it most.

If you’re a natural cheerleader, consider what will help each employee feel more confident. Their confidence will help them proactively seek new opportunities for growth.

Best People Management Practices

Man at desk using people management skills remotely
Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

However you characterize your people management style, these best practices will enhance it. Each focuses on supporting employees’ ongoing growth. Managers should work to engage in them all on a daily basis. 

Accentuate Signature Strengths

We are hardwired to develop in our areas of strengths, research shows. The brain grows far more synaptic connections and neurons in those areas. So, feedback should focus on enhancing areas of strength. In contrast, fixating on weaknesses actually hampers growth.

“When managers develop employees based on their strengths, employees are more than twice as likely to be engaged,” says Gallup. Similarly, pointing out what employees have done well may work better than correcting them. Correction may be necessary at times. But in terms of people management, emphasizing success will have a more positive effect.

Shape Organizational Culture

First, define the type of culture you want to create. Understand your organization’s values. For example, a company could value experimentation, precision, or simplicity. What kind of culture will further your values and vision? Ask yourself whether the structure of your team supports that culture as well. 

For instance, say having an agile culture is important to your organization. In that case, good people management would empower teams to think on their feet and make decisions quickly. Eliminate the expectation that they’ll always report to you for approval first. Praise quick-thinking and forgive mistakes while helping people learn from them.

Foster Collaboration

Today’s employees expect their voices to be heard. They want their manager to recognize their value and intelligence. How can you do that?

  • Holding collaborative brainstorming sessions.
  • Using ongoing virtual idea-sharing solutions.
  • Asking for their input about a potential plan.
  • Making connections between individuals with complementary knowledge.

These practices will show you value their insights. Then, people management and collaboration will give rise to stronger ideas.

Develop an Appropriate Mix of Rewards

A good people management tactic is to offer a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are the social rewards they gain from being appreciated. Meanwhile, extrinsic rewards are tangible things that show appreciation. For example, a bonus or a gift certificate are extrinsic rewards.

Sharing gratitude personally or thanking them in a meeting are intrinsic rewards. Give intrinsic rewards frequently to keep up morale and provide extrinsic rewards occasionally.

Trust Your People

People management is about trusting people to carry out important tasks. Here are four steps for doing this successfully:

  • Explain why you believe they’re ready for a big opportunity. 
  • Be a sounding board for their ideas as they get started. 
  • Ask great questions that help them arrive at their own solutions. 
  • Give them the freedom to carry out the assignment as they see fit. They might even discover a better method than the one you would use. 

In short, manage outcomes, not process. Otherwise, you’ll become known for micromanaging.

Promote Diversity and Inclusion

People management is not about showing favouritism. Managers sometimes naturally have a strong camaraderie with those who are most like them. Awareness of this potential bias can help counteract it. Begin by developing a great rapport with each employee. Then, you’ll more fully see their strengths and value.

How? Make an effort to spend time with employees from a different background than you. Get to know their interests and dreams. That way, you won’t just avoid the appearance of favouritism. Rather, you’ll genuinely avoid favouritism by recognizing each person’s worth. 

Ensure you’re providing equal training opportunities to each person, too. Similarly, hold one-on-ones with the same frequency for each employee. 

Make Space for Disagreement

Disagreement doesn’t have to mean conflict—and conflict isn’t always bad. “Conflict is uncomfortable, but it is the source of true innovation, and also a critical process in identifying and mitigating risks,” says Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. It can help you explore the pros and cons of potential solutions.

Working through disagreements and conflict can improve people management as well. Research has also shown healthy approaches to conflict boost happiness at work, HBR writes. So, great managers encourage employees to explore differences of opinion in healthy ways. 

Use the Right Technology

Using the right people management system will enhance the employee experience, says Deloitte. A set of tools with user-friendly navigation has become essential. This serves as a key way to differentiate your organization and drive engagement. Plus, it will deliver data that helps you evaluate progress and delegate responsibilities.

Such solutions are providing employees with the continuous feedback they crave. They can also deliver insights on how employees learn best. In turn, these insights can inform how managers coach employees.

Crowdsource Ideas

Crowdsource ideas from your employees on how to improve. You can focus on your management style, team culture, or organizational practices. Sending out pulse surveys on topics like these will lend a wealth of input. When presenting a new plan, show how their input helped develop it. Morale will rise when they know they have a hand in shaping plans.

Now, let’s look at what not to do. At some point, you’ve probably dealt with a manager who used one of the following styles.

Outdated Styles of People Management

Boss entering room of employees to discuss people mangement
Credit: Yan Krukov/Pexels

The following antiquated management styles do far more harm than good. Managers can display any of these styles or a combination of them. 

Autocratic People Management

In decades past, the manager often followed a dictatorial style. These managers relied on intimidation and formal authority to get things done. Such managers might bully their employees into agreeing with or obeying them. Of course, this creates a lot of stress for employees. It also prevents their great ideas from rising to the surface.

Employees become too focused on avoiding negative repercussions to risk sharing insights.

Detached People Management

These managers practice a hands-off style. They may engage in “set it and forget it” goal setting, not following up. Rather, they believe employees should figure things out for themselves. They provide little guidance and feedback on how to achieve goals. As a result, employees feel confused and may be floundering.

These managers might feel they connect with employees in meetings, but that’s not enough. Rather, they need to check in with them individually and often.


Micromanaging employees prevents them from working efficiently. Why? It causes them to constantly second-guess how they’re doing things. And it discourages them from finding new ways of handling a task. Plus, having someone constantly looking over their shoulder increases stress. 

“Control freak” managers often suffer from imposter syndrome. They worry that if one small thing goes wrong, others will view them as incompetent. If you tend to micromanage, work to overcome your own insecurities.

Seagull People Management

This style involves only interacting with employees when problems arise. When things are going well, employees don’t hear praise for their efforts. The manager might swoop in when a problem emerges and then disappear back into an office. As a result, they don’t build a rapport with employees or foster a team culture. (In fact, none of these styles do!)

Please note that these style differences do not pertain to age. Managers of each generation have been embracing today’s best management strategies. In fact, research shows older managers are especially likely to:

  • Listen carefully
  • Show empathy for others
  • Promote collaborative problem-solving
  • Give effective feedback

These are all core elements of great people management, of course. Though they might sound like common sense, it takes time and effort to master these practices. 

Wrap Up

Remember, managers won’t just pick up these concepts naturally (or learn how to apply them). Their previous role as an individual contributor typically hasn’t prepared them to lead. Too often, new managers receive little training in how to manage others. Or, they may actually be taught a seagull style of management.

They learn to correct problems but not to build a cohesive and engaged team.

How to cultivate the right skill set in your managers? Use experiential learning techniques, suggests Gallup. Examples include role-playing scenarios and on-the-job learning opportunities. Getting managers up to speed through real-world practice makes all the difference! Role-plays can also help “bully bosses” overcome problem behaviours, says SHRM.

They can practice agreeing or backing down, realizing that neither jeopardizes their authority.

Additionally, holding regular workshops with groups of managers will promote peer support. And mentoring for each manager will provide the ongoing guidance they need. By taking these actions, you’ll see teams flourish while individuals thrive.

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