What if we made the primary function of managers to, well... manage? Being a manager is an inherently complex and human experience. As a result, the role requires so many “soft” skills that have been traditionally deprioritized. As the world continues to evolve, it’s time for HR leaders to look at the role of the manager with fresh eyes so organizations can thrive, not just survive. When we redefine the role of the manager to include more humanity, we’ll see improvements in engagement, productivity, and resilience.
In this article, we’ll explore the current state of management, key areas to adopt a more human approach, and new strategies to better enable managers.
What it means to manage today
Managers are short on time, short on support, and being asked to do things they were never trained to do. Especially in the wake of a global pandemic and political unrest, these expectations are a sign that the measure of good management has changed. While many leaders acknowledge this shift in manager responsibilities, the training, ongoing support, and tools provided all remain the same.
We’re seeing that the spreadsheets, meetings, and inbox management were never the important part of what it means to be a good manager. The important parts stem from truly understanding and engaging with people, in their infinite complexity. Inspiring teams to do their best work. Having difficult conversations with them about disruptive change. Coaching them through the ups-and-downs of work life (and life-life).
Managers have had to adapt their management approach to navigate these uncharted waters of global uncertainty. However, it’s becoming clear that pandemic or no pandemic, there has always been a hunger for a more human approach to management. There is an opportunity for HR leaders and organizations to redefine what it means to be a manager and provide resources and support to help them do just that.
Redefining the manager
Being a manager before the widespread transition to remote work was hard enough. Training was often reserved for higher-ups – and even then wasn’t necessarily effective. Now, with so many companies moving to remote work, it’s harder than ever to read the subtle cues that managers rely on in interactions with their team.
It’s time to create systems and approaches that extend a manager’s ability to connect, engage, inspire, and lead. Research consistently shows that the success of managers is the greatest indicator of success for an organization. It’s time to redefine the role of the manager with a focus on developing their attributes as insightful leaders, creating new resources to scale their empathy, and making it easier to grow themselves and their teams. With this approach, organizations will foster teams that are better equipped to chart the course towards a brighter future.
Managers have to play so many roles, and it’s time we start supporting them in new and effective ways. Consider the following key roles we see managers play, and opportunities for HR leaders to better support them:
Managers experience the full spectrum of interpersonal relationships on a day-to-day basis and it’s impossible to manage with blinders on. As a result, managers must constantly pay attention to what their team members are feeling – and often intuit this without being told explicitly. These skills of reading people's signals or body language in the “virtual room" and noticing subtle changes in behavior are critical to identifying areas for improvement.
HR quick win: Encourage managers to hold regular 1-on-1 meetings with each of their direct reports to gauge how people are feeling. Provide suggested discussion questions to facilitate conversations that help uncover issues.
The Fire Extinguisher
Many managers (and leaders in general) spend a large chunk of time putting out fires. Whether an urgent request lands in your inbox or someone hands in their notice unexpectedly, addressing emergencies and answering questions can quickly take up an entire day. Unpacking problems and prioritizing solutions is an essential part of the job, and there is a major opportunity to help managers improve their emergency response skills.
HR quick win: 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.
Ensuring team members are motivated and confident in their abilities is arguably one of the most important duties of a manager. Aligning projects to the right team members, boosting morale when projects are tough, and supporting individual growth and development are just a few ways managers can think about coaching and cheering on their teams.
HR quick win: Show managers how to use 1-on-1 conversations and team meetings to uncover what motivates each team member. Suggest assigning projects that align with each team member's skill level and identify opportunities for growth. Provide a coaching framework that encourages managers to help team members figure out solutions for themselves.
Adopting this new approach
This merely scratches the surface of the myriad roles and responsibilities of a manager but begins to show the gap between what managers do and the support they currently receive. Managers wear many hats and need organizational support to drive individual and team success. Over the coming weeks, we'll be sharing resources and tools to help HR teams better support their managers and redefine what it means to be a leader in your organization.
What does it mean to be a manager today?
Equip managers with the tools to do their best work.