People management skills have become more critical than ever. As managers juggle hybrid and remote teams composed of full-time employees and contractors, they have their work cut out for them. 

At the same time, many managers have little to no formal leadership education. This has serious repercussions for their team. In an SHRM survey, 84% of employees said managers with poor leadership skills had caused them a lot of stress.

And in a previous study on the third quarter of 2019, SHRM had found that nearly 1 in 4 employees dreaded going to work. We suspect this played a big role in catalyzing the ongoing wave of resignations we’ve seen in 2021. 

As a leader, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Read on to learn what skills are most important for managers and how to grow them fast. 

The Most Crucial People Management Skills

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We’ve identified the following people management skills as core areas to develop. Here’s why each is so important.

  • Communication: In the SHRM survey, communication topped the list of areas where managers need to improve. A full 41% of employees felt that managers need to grow their communication skills. 
  • Emotional intelligence: Leaders must be introspective, cultivating a high level of self-awareness. They need to understand the reasons behind people’s behaviours—both their own and their employees’. Emotional intelligence allows managers to think compassionately and get to the root of issues that arise.
  • Decision-making skills: Managers need to use a sound process for making decisions. If their team perceives them as indecisive, people will feel insecure. 
  • Ability to prioritize: In the SHRM survey, 37% of employees said their managers need to gain better time-management and delegation skills. They want their manager to give them more important work to do—and to trust them to get it done.
  • A level head:The ability to stay calm under pressure is one of the earmarks of a true leader. When managers remain confident in their ability to handle any situation, people will intuitively follow their example.
  • Ability to foster a positive culture: The SHRM survey found that 35% of employees feel their manager needs to create a more positive and inclusive workplace culture. 
  • Trustworthiness: To guide people to follow you, focus on earning their trust. You can do this by being reliable and empathetic to their needs.

Grow These Critical People Management Skills

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Now, let’s explore strategies for growing these skills. You can start putting each of these actionable strategies into practice today. Most of them help build several of the people management skills from the list above.

Define your Vision

Articulate your vision for the organization (or an upcoming initiative) in clear terms. This will enhance your focus and streamline your efforts. Post it somewhere visible so it stays front-of-mind for the whole team and refer to it often in meetings.

Think long-range, not just short-term. “As a visionary leader, you should be thinking about more than just the next quarter. You should also be thinking about the next decade and what your company’s reputation and place in the world will be after 40 quarterly results,” says Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors.

A strong vision will strengthen your decision-making, prioritization, and communication capabilities.

Create A Practice of Reflection

Take time to reflect on your personal goals, vision, and progress on a weekly basis. Make it just as much a priority as a meeting with your biggest client. Schedule it into your calendar and avoid distractions during that time. Create a list of questions for yourself to answer during reflections.

HBR has some great ones, like “What are you avoiding?” and “How could you have been more productive at a recent meeting?” This will help improve strengths such as emotional intelligence and decision-making.

Make Meetings More Engaging

Overcome Zoom burnout by making meetings more dynamic. This will boost communication and help build a positive culture. Set a strict time limit and choose topics wisely. Give meetings a theme focused on your most important agenda item. Phrase agenda items as thought-provoking questions that you send out in advance.

You can also incorporate a fun activity to keep things lively! For instance, choose a word of the day, like “cucumber,” and see who can use it in normal conversation without anyone noticing.

Zoom itself understands the reality of meeting fatigue. Internally, the company has implemented “Working Wednesdays,” a relatively meeting-free day, to give staff a break. That way, they can resume meetings recharged later. 

Seek Feedback

Use at least a couple of different formats to ask for feedback on your performance and the organization’s initiatives. Surveys, one-on-one meetings, and 360 reviews are all powerful ways of seeking feedback. Strive to listen to various perspectives before making a decision, asking for input in team meetings or one-on-one.

This will help all employees feel invested in the decision while enhancing trust, communication, and culture. 

Promote Collaboration

Boost creative brainstorming and collaboration with the right tools and tactics. Choose a balanced mix of tools that allow for dynamic real-time collaboration as well as reflection. Some people do best with popcorn-style collaboration in a video chat. Others prefer an ongoing brainstorming session hosted on a platform like Slack. 

To promote spontaneous exchanges, leaders and employees can set times when they’re available for drop-in chats. Leaders at the company Highspot set specific times when they’re available for “hallway conversations,” notes SHRM.

Build an Inclusive Culture

Work to bring all voices to the table and truly encourage equal participation. As a leader, strive to identify the roadblocks faced by each member of your team and help remove them, says Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet. “Your work is to remove that barrier, remove roadblocks for them so that they can be successful in what they do,” he asserts.

Strive to identify structural barriers to success within your company and overcome them as an organization. If the leadership is predominantly white and male, they might be more likely to mentor people who share those characteristics.

“Informal mentoring programs can even unintentionally exclude people if there’s no formal intention, design, or organized recruitment to the mentoring efforts,” says the Association for Talent Development. Intentionally pairing up mentors and mentees can help solve this problem.

With the rise of hybrid teams, being inclusive also means taking a “virtual-first” approach to meetings. This involves prioritizing the needs of remote workers. For instance, someone should make sure the technology works and optimizing the audio.

Show Empathy

Showing empathy for others also plays a key role in bringing an inclusive culture to fruition.

Show empathy by working to truly understand people’s perspectives and motivations. “It’s possible to weave empathy into everything you do as a business leader, and it shows in your teams’ output and attitude towards work,” says Christine Trodella of Workplace from Facebook, who heads the Americas division.

Show genuine concern for their wellbeing, helping them reduce their stress and express their needs.

“In order to be an effective manager, you have to have empathy,” explains Nikitha Lokareddy of Markitors. “I find that the biggest complaint about managers is that they are disconnected from the day-to-day challenges their employees face.

Before addressing any problems, you should put yourself in that employee’s position and try to understand why they are not performing to the level you are expecting. Once you understand the why, you’ll be able to come up with innovative solutions that benefit the whole team.” By doing so, you’ll grow your emotional intelligence and build trust.

Use Data as A Tool to Guide Decision-Making

Colleagues looking at data on people management
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Leverage data to make stronger, more objective decisions. This also supports inclusivity by helping transcend implicit biases (which we all have). Use data from your performance management system to inform how you coach employees to success. Further, tracking the results of pulse surveys can reveal the success of changes you’ve made.

For instance, look at whether engagement has risen or fallen as you’ve switched to a hybrid rather than fully remote model over the past six months. You can also examine stress levels, job satisfaction, and other indicators of employee wellbeing in this way.

For a real-world example, just look at how Google has leveraged data to boost employee satisfaction. Guided by people analytics, it offers perks such as “nap pods,” meals, and generous holiday pay. The secret? Run test projects that try out an idea that arises from employee input. Then, adopt it if it works.

Such initiatives have consistently made Google one of the top company to work at.

Strengthen your Storytelling Abilities

Increase your powers of persuasion by inspiring others with great stories. Storytelling can help you communicate a compelling vision or mobilize people to reach a goal. Paint the picture of what success will look like to energize your team. Or, tell the story of how someone else (or yourself) rose to new heights of success. 

“A personal anecdote can both lighten the mood and illustrate your perspective more effectively, helping your audience feel less skeptical and more open to your ideas,” says leadership coach and author Jeff Gothelf. “For example, when speaking to my leadership clients, I’ll often bring up the six months I spent traveling with a circus.”

Stories like that illustrate lessons about relationship building, handling new situations, and learning about a new culture, he notes.

Adopt Time-Management Tools

“Most of your stress is because you’re thinking about too many things at once,” says leadership coach Tony Robbins. Use time management tools to prioritize your time wisely and help others do the same. For instance, Robbins encourages using task chunking, which involves grouping smaller related tasks together.

He also advocates for using the “20-minute rule,” similar to the Pomodoro technique. It involves spending 20-minute stretches of time tackling an important project with a single-minded focus. 

Invest in their Dreams

Ask employees about their aspirations. Connect the dots between their dreams and the organizational vision and mission. Then, engage them in their work by finding meaningful ways to challenge them. This will foster a positive, engaged workforce.

Guide others to become capable of leading, too. Many organizations are now facing a shortage of qualified managers. You may have the right talent in house for such positions if you mentor them to success. Since a large proportion of Millennials feel their workplace isn’t grooming them for leadership positions, it’s time to take action.

Take Accountability

Build a culture of trust by owning up to your mistakes and addressing problems directly. Acknowledge what you could have done better during a specific initiative, even if it ultimately succeeded. Similarly, opening up to your team about the challenges you face gives them permission to be honest about theirs.

For instance, you might admit that you find analytics daunting but are committed to learning how to use them. Taking accountability and being transparent will set the standard you expect everyone to follow.

Find Ways to Stay Centered

Keep your cool under pressure by keeping stress in check. By maintaining a good equilibrium, you’ll help prevent stress from getting out of hand when challenges arise. Eat nutritious meals and get enough sleep. And exercise regularly to keep your serotonin levels balanced and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.

In fact, if a stressful situation arises, consider holding a walking meeting with a team member or group. You can also use another practice for navigating stressful situations, such as a relaxing breathing exercise. 

Which of these areas do you most need to focus on? Seeking out feedback from others will help you gain this self-awareness. Choose a few specific actions you can take this week, lasering in on your key areas for growth. Then, select ways you can build upon them next week.

As you grow these people management skills, your employees will see firsthand what great people management looks like. Then, when they’re ready to step up to the plate, they’ll have a great example to follow.

Want to really get a jump start on personnel management? Request a demo of our performance management software. It will help you help your whole team to stay goal-oriented week after week.

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