Company Culture
8 min read

Effective Managers: An HR Guide


Rachel Bolsu

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 8 minutes

HR’s guide to supporting effective managers

What does it mean to be a manager? In a given week, a manager can serve as a delegator, a coach, a therapist, and a cheerleader. But so often, new managers don’t have the support they need to take on the many hats of a leader.

In the past, managers and HR teams haven’t always had the strongest relationship. Managers tend to perceive HR as someone they hear from when there’s a problem, rather than as an ongoing support system. And HR can often feel like the complaint department when managers only come to them with problems. Research consistently shows that the success of managers is the greatest indicator of success for an organization. So we’ve set out to help rebuild the relationship between HR and managers.

To help HR teams support managers more effectively, we compiled this collection of definitions, resources, and approaches to manager development.


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Manager responsibilities

There’s no master textbook for being a good manager. Management looks different depending on the role, team size, and company culture. The needs of a team are constantly changing, and managers must continually adapt to create a stable environment for their team to thrive.

A good manager is so much more than a taskmaster or delegator. Strong managers engage with people in their infinite complexity by inspiring individuals to do their best work, having difficult team conversations about disruptive changes, and coaching through ups-and-downs. 

At the simplest level, managers play three key roles simultaneously – though we all know they play many more. Consider these three key responsibilities of managers and ways HR can better support them:

RoleResponsibilitiesHR quick win
The EmpathSensing what your team is feeling without having to be told explicitly.
Reading people’s emotional signals or body language and noticing subtle changes in behavior is critical to identifying areas for improvement.
Encourage managers to hold regular 1-on-1 meetings with their reports to gauge how people are feeling. Provide discussion questions to help facilitate conversations that uncover issues.
The Fire ExtinguisherUrgently addressing emergencies when your team gets into trouble.
Whether an urgent request lands in your inbox or someone hands in their notice unexpectedly, unpacking problems and prioritizing solutions are essential skills.
Provide a framework to help managers respond to unexpected challenges.  Share a set of prioritization questions to help their team find focus and teach them how to break complex problems down into smaller individual tasks. 
The Hype-personEnsuring your team members are motivated and confident in their abilities
Aligning projects to the right team members, boosting morale when projects are tough, and supporting individual growth are just a few ways to coach and cheer on your team.
Show managers how to use 1-on-1s to uncover what motivates each team member. Encourage assigning projects that align with an individual’s skill level and opportunity for growth. Provide a coaching framework that encourages managers to help team members figure out solutions for themselves.

Resources on manager responsibilities:

How to be a better manager in this new world of work

How modern managers align performance and engagement

How first-time managers can develop fair and effective performance reviews

Time management: a guide for managers

From individual contributor to manager: a transition checklist

Effective management practices

While it’s easy to simplify the management role into one of delegation, we know management requires flexibility, patience, and empathy. As workplaces prioritize company values and culture, employees expect more humanity from their leaders. However, managers are ill-equipped to effectively incorporate these soft skills into their management practices.

The personal and professional have become more intertwined than ever before. Managers are wondering how honest is too honest? Where employees once turned to managers only for their work-related tasks, they now look for empathy, resilience, responsiveness, and vulnerability. The path is not clear cut, and managers need the tools to develop higher emotional intelligence. 

HR is well-positioned to support managers in developing these skills and navigating this new set of boundaries. Fortunately, in response to global uncertainty, HR thought leaders have been giving a lot of thought to setting expectations and accountability. 

These four principles can help guide your organization’s management practices:

1. Create a safe space: Empower managers to create safe spaces to talk through personal challenges with their teams. 

2. Lead by example: Leading with vulnerability requires humanity and empathy. When leaders share their own vulnerability, it opens the door to the entire team.

3. Prioritize transparency: Stay attuned to the fears and uncertainties of different individuals – don’t shy away from difficult conversations.

4. Let empathy be your guide: Empathizing with your team’s struggles and showing your support goes a long way in building trust between managers and their direct reports.

Resources on effective management practices:

What makes a good manager: 11 essential traits

Brené Brown, vulnerability and leadership

The importance of shared suffering in the workplace

7 tips for managing multigenerational teams

How to empower diverse teams: a guide for new managers

Manager development

Manager development goes beyond long training sessions or passing an online course. Development opportunities should be accessible and actionable. Beyond traditional trainings, there are new approaches to help managers apply these skills in real interactions. Micro-learning and coaching are two key elements of any effective manager development strategy.

Micro-learning

Micro-learning is the practice of short, digestible learning activities, rather than a single long training session. Micro-learning is intended to help integrate learning into an ongoing practice with real-life application.

Derived from the spacing effect, or the act of distributing learning over time, instead of spending hours in a single workshop, shorter sessions over a longer period of time have proven to be more effective. Managers don’t always have the time to sit through long training sessions and give their full attention, so making learning a daily practice helps managers understand new information and put it into practice. Further, when combined with larger training sessions, spaced repetition can help extend the learnings out and ensure they’re being put to use.

Coaching skills for managers

Coaching focuses on helping individual employees develop their own critical thinking skills through learning. In this way, it differs from the traditional management approach as coaching is about guiding rather than telling. Coaching is a critical piece of the management process. 

Managers are looking for ways to become better coaches and HR can play an instrumental role in empowering them with the tools they need. Using micro-learning and training sessions to teach managers the principles of coaching inspires individual growth – both for managers and their reports. When individuals are encouraged to identify solutions, they develop their problem-solving skills, which benefits the larger organization by improving retention and creating more specific expertise.

Resources on manager development:

Your most common questions about manager training

From individual contributor to manager: a transition checklist

7 training opportunities for new managers

5 ways HR teams can help develop their managers

3 approaches to new manager training

Management vs coaching: 5 key tactics for managers

1-on-1 Meetings

1-on-1 meetings are regular (typically weekly or biweekly) meetings between managers and their direct reports. This creates uninterrupted time to discuss projects, review performance, and remove blockers. It also provides an opportunity for managers to get to know their reports’ career aspirations, interests, and professional growth opportunities. 

Regular 1-on-1 conversations have many benefits, including:

  • Performance improvement: Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins allow managers to stay on top of employee productivity and ensure team goals will be met.
  • Employee development: 87% of millennials value growth and professional development in a job and 1-on-1 meetings are where growth conversations can happen. 
  • Trust building: Studies show when employees feel trusted at work, they feel more confident and perform at a higher level. Employees who trust their managers are more likely to share issues that might be affecting performance, which, when properly addressed, can encourage openness, honesty, loyalty, and engagement.
  • Increased agility: 1-on-1 meetings give employees an opportunity to identify and address blockers, challenges, and issues as they arise. They also help teams pivot quickly, so teams can remain agile and adapt as business needs change. 

1-on-1 meetings may look different for every company, manager, and direct report. But the goal of these meetings remains the same – to maintain open communication and identify opportunities for growth.

Resources on 1-on-1 meetings:

Why it’s important to encourage shared ownership of 1-on-1s

A manager’s ultimate checklist for effective 1-on-1s

The importance of 1-on-1 meetings

Ensuring 1-on-1 meetings go beyond tactical performance

24 great 1-on-1 meeting questions

Bringing it all together

The measure of good management has changed, and the need for HR support has never been greater.  As organizations rethink the responsibilities of a manager, it’s imperative to empower them with the tools, resources, and support to be successful. When the role of the manager includes more empathy and humanity, we’ll see improvements in engagement, productivity, and resilience. 

HR & Managers: The keys to a successful partnership is a comprehensive guide designed to help HR create systems and approaches to empower managers. Download the guide to explore the changing role of managers, areas to incorporate a more human approach, and strategies for better manager development.