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What Is People Management? Yes, These Skills Matter in 2020

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As a business leader, it's easy to overlook the importance of "soft" skills like people management. Yet soft skills are crucial to the health of your business.

What Is People Management
Good people management skills make a difference. (Image source: Envato Elements

In fact, the World Economic Forum says that people management skills are among the top soft skills needed for businesses to thrive. 

In this guide, you'll learn what people management is.  I'll show you how to improve people management skills so you can have a more productive, successful and contented workplace.

What Are People Management Skills?

people management skills
Soft skills such as people management skills can help you with many aspects of your job. (Image source: Envato Elements)

People management skills are also known as soft skills. While hard skills tend to be more technical, soft skills have more to do with interacting with people. They're crucial for good leadership, as people management skills are the human and empathetic skills you need when working with people and managing teams. 

People management skills will help you:

  • Hire and work with the right people.
  • Assign employees the right tasks that match their skills, abilities and responsibilities.
  • Manage performance.
  • Handle employee training and development.
  • Identify candidates for promotion.
  • Delegate effectively.
  • Handle disciplinary matters, including grievances and dismissals.
  • Work well with teams.

To achieve those results, there are certain personal qualities you'll need to develop. We'll look at those in more detail later in this guide. 

Why You Can't Ignore People Management Skills

how to improve people management skills
Good people management is good leadership and good business. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Knowing how to manage people is essential for the health of your business. So, it's a mistake to ignore people management skills. In fact, failure to look after people management can cost your business dearly. 

Poor people management can result in reduced employee engagement and lower productivity.

Research from SMARP shows that: 

  • Around 69% of employees will work harder if better appreciated.
  • Companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable.
  • Since hiring and onboarding new employees can cost an average of $5,000. If poor people management makes those employees leave, it can cost your business money.

When leaders, executives and managers have poor people management skills, it can result in the creation of unhealthy work environments. And that, in turn makes it difficult to attract and keep the right talent to help your business grow. 

In contrast, good people management skills can improve employees' engagement, commitment, motivation and productivity.  In other words, good people management is good leadership and good business.

It's important to note that having good people management skills is NOT the same thing as being popular. That's because sometimes in order to manage your employees effectively and get the most out of your business, you may have to take unpopular decisions.

Next, let's dive into tips for improving your people management skills.

How to Improve People Management Skills: 10 People Management Tips

how to manage people
Learn how to manage people to perform better at your job. (Image source: Envato Elements)

So, how can you improve your people management skills? Here are 10 tips to help you understand the soft skills you need to develop to become a better leader.

1. Use Active Listening

One of the most important skills is active listening. This is a technique often used in counseling or conflict resolution.  As an active listener, you don't simply hear what people say, you consciously pay attention to their words and what lies behind them. Listen without interruption. Pay attention to body language that can reveal how they're really feeling. You must also remember what they've said so you can respond appropriately. Active listening can help you have more productive conversations with the people you're communicating with.

2. Show Empathy

Once you've listened to your employees, then it's also important to show empathy. Note that this doesn't always mean that you agree with them. It only means that you recognize and understand their feelings or the situation they're in. One way to achieve this is to ask questions (after you've listened, of course) to establish how they're feeling. If it's appropriate, you can also share a situation where you experienced similar feelings. This shows that you care, even if you don't necessarily agree. Here are more tips on creating a positive work environment:

3. Communicate Clearly

Communication is one of the most important people management skills. Part of good communication is listening and observing. But good communication is also clear,  concise, and relevant to what you're talking about. When communicating, be courteous and mindful of the recipient's position and likely viewpoint. 

Besides day to day communication, consider clearly stating roles, responsibilities and expectations for any task or project. You should also ensure you communicate company policies and procedures. You can do this with a manual or staff wiki, which you should keep up to date.

4. Engage and Empower Employees

When thinking about how to manage people, the process starts from the minute a new hire walks through the door. First impressions count. You can make a powerful first impression by having a process to help new employees get to know the company.  A good example I've seen from a remote company included:

  • a company wiki that included a company manual
  • a suggested onboarding schedule and checklist, including meetings with key team members
  • an outline of roles and responsibilities, including which tasks they can handle without needing approval
  • information on benefits  and perks for current and long-term employees

You can also empower employees by spelling out the paths for progression and opportunities for growth. 

When employees have this information they're more more likely to stick around. Learn more about creating loyal employees through good people management in the following articles:

5. Learn to Give Constructive Criticism

Nobody enjoys being criticized, and especially not when criticism is used to demean or diminish a person. Instead of that approach, develop the art of constructive criticism as one of your key people management skills.

Constructive criticism focuses on specific improvements employees can make. To deliver constructive criticism well, acknowledge what an employee has done right. Point out what needs to be improved, saying why and how this should be done. Avoid making the criticism personal. 

6. Understand Conflict Resolution

people management definition
Have a clear grievance procedure for handling conflicts. (Image source: Envato Elements)

As the leader of an organization, at some point, you'll face a conflict. This might be between employees, or with an employee. Set yourself up for success by having a clear grievance procedure in your employee handbook. This should make it clear:

  • where employees should start with handling a conflict
  • when they should escalate
  • when you as the leader need to get involved
  • what procedures they should follow in each case

Conflict resolution is a skill. So consider having someone with the right training to help in cases where mediation is needed. 

7. Be Flexible

In both business and life, situations change all the time. For example, who would have thought that a global pandemic would virtually shut down the world for three months? 

Though you hopefully won't have to face such a serious situation, it's important to be flexible as a leader. You need to adjust expectations and deliverables depending on what's happening in business, and the situations your employees face. Accidents and illnesses can change an employee's perspective and affect productivity. If you're an empathetic leader, you'll understand this, and support your employee appropriately. Do this, and your employees will value you as a leader and will enjoy working with you.

8. Be Transparent

Ever worked somewhere and had the feeling that the leadership was hiding things from you? It didn't feel good, did it? For employees, if leadership activities are too opaque, it can feel like the leaders don't care about you.

Instead of that approach, go for transparency. Connect with employees regularly (for example, in team meetings) to let them know what's happening in the company. You can even be completely open, like Buffer is. That company shares salaries, revenue, activities and more in a public blog. Transparency builds trust, which leads nicely to the next item on this list of people management skills.

9. Build Trust

Another of the important people management skills is building trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 shows that less than one-third of employees believe that companies will pay good wages and invest in retraining for people whose jobs are being automated. And a special report on brand trust shows that 70% of people believe that brand trust is more important now than ever. 

Both employees and customers expect businesses to have ethical standards and be true to them. In terms of people management, that also means being above-board when you deal with employees. The more trust you build, the better your relationship and the more successful you'll be at people management. That'll stand you in good stead, even when you've got to make hard decisions. Learn more about this in our article on ethical leadership:

10. Work With a Mentor

If you're not confident in your own people management skills, consider working with a mentor and learning from people who are more experienced with people management. 

For example, you could join a business networking organization where you'll hear how other business leaders are dealing with challenges. You can also get good advice via social media groups for business leaders, such as the ones available on LinkedIn or Facebook. If you prefer something more focused, then a mastermind group can help you learn skills and be accountable for implementing good people management practices. 

Want even some exercises on how to improve your people management skills? Check out this workbook from the International Labor Organization.

Learn More About Leadership

People management is a core leadership skill. To improve other leadership skills, check out the following articles:

Develop Your People Management Skills Today!

You've seen how  good people management skills make a difference at every stage of your interaction with an employee. From onboarding, to daily work life, to promotion, these so-called soft skills make a concrete difference to employee loyalty and productivity, and to the health of your business. Use these people management tips to become a better leader.

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