Have we over-expanded the remit of people managers? As the world and the workplace have become increasingly complex, management requirements and expectations are expanding exponentially. So, what steps can People Professionals take to support managers, to relieve the risk of being overwhelmed, and equip them with the competencies and behaviours to thrive?
Join Nigel Cassidy and this month’s guests: Zofia Bajorek, Research Fellow at Institute of Employment Studies; Wayne Clarke, Founding Partner and Leadership and Management Expert at Global Growth Institute and Amanda Arrowsmith, People and Transformation Director at CIPD, as we discuss how people professionals can best support managers to tackle the demands of a new era of people management.
Nigel Cassidy: When managers struggle so does productivity and team spirit. So how can people professionals support them better? I'm Nigel Cassidy and this is the CIPD Podcast. Like never before the fate of organisations is not so much in the hands of their high-profile leaders but day to day people managers. How effective they are can make or break organisations. Today, the people who are in charge of people are often overburdened and stressed, accountable for their team's personal well being, careers, performance, deployments and Lord knows what else. And it matters, I mean, if people hate their manager well when they get the chance they may leave. So how did it come to this? Is it time, human resource, professionals and people in learning and development and organisational development and design, used their skills to take some of the weight off their shoulders?
Well three really top guests this month, all known as influential players with ideas to help people managers to cope and deliver. Well, firstly we're delighted to welcome the author and keynote speaker on employee engagement Wayne Clarke. His Global Growth Institute has inspired and developed over 30,000 managers in over 30 countries. Hi Wayne.
Wayne Clarke: Hi Nigel. Thank you for having me.
NC: With Zofia Bajorek she's a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies. She has a special interest in the role of line managers and best health and well being work practices. Hello.
Zofia Bajorek: Hi, really, really excited to take part in this podcast today. So thank you for letting me talk.
NC: You're very welcome. And from the home team with us after a distinguished senior HR career in the public, private and third sectors, it's the CIPD's own People and Transformation Director, Amanda Arrowsmith. Hello.
Amanda Arrowsmith: Hello everyone, pleased to be here.
NC: Now, Wayne I'll start with you. I mean, everybody can surely see that today's line managers have a lot on their plate. I mean, they have to monitor those hybrid workers, mentor careers and well being, enforce policies get more work out of people. I mean, the cynic might say, "Who'd be a manager now?"
WC: It's an insane thing to do. It's exactly what we say. Actually the funny thing is in some organisations people decide not to be managers. We've seen this in a few organisations because when you look at the benefits involved from stepping up from being an individual contributor or member of the team to being the team manager in some instances it is a sort of not such a smart thing to do. We've got a large organisation that we work with involved in the distribution business and many of the staff there have told us there is no way that they would step up to what they call a work area manager. If you look at the uplift in pay versus the stress involved, versus the fact that many of your colleagues will now see you as one of them, actually most employees will say it's not for me. The challenge then is they've got to try and attract people from other organisations to come in, but of course that involves its own challenges because you're getting people to step into quite hardened and long serving teams of people where forming those relationships in some cases takes years to be an effective team manager. So in answer to your question it is, it is a tough place to be.
NC: Amanda Arrowsmith has this always been the case? I mean, we love to point to evidence on this podcast. I mean, do we know if the people management burden has swung, some would say a bit too far to the front line, from being handled by you know, HR professionals and the like?
AA: Yeah, I'm not sure I would agree swung too far to the front line, but I'm sure we'll get to that. But yeah, I think it has changed. I think over the last 25 years we've seen significant changes and partly that's a lot to do with the change in the world of work. So, if you look at lots of different areas you used to have administration teams or personal assistants and secretaries, and we don't have those anymore. And with technology comes some changes in the way we do things. So as we've had less of that kind of, hierarchical organisation and moved to perhaps flatter structures, people managers responsibilities have increased as well. And I think we, as we move forward, individuals kind of want to work more as we become more dispersed. We'll talk, I'm sure we'll touch on hybrid today, and we'll touch on remote working teams and teams that work globally. But the old days of someone perhaps sitting in front of, I think if I think of an image I think about those typing pools and someone kind of sat on a little bit of a stage at the front looking down on rows of desks. Those have very much changed and people management has adapted with that.
NC: And Zofia Bajorek, do we actually know that duff people management is the thing which is holding businesses or organisations back? I mean, is it the hidden cause of this notorious UK productivity gap that I think the famous Peter Jay was talking to me about, about 30 years ago, dare I say?
ZB: I think there now is a lot of evidence to suggest that bad management can be a cause of the productivity puzzle. I often refer to the work of (inaudible) Van Reenan here who with their economic modelling have really, really shown that actually with organisations that have bad managers the productivity is often much lower. That comes from also the Engage for Success report that came out over 10 years ago now showing that poor management can lead to poor engagement and poor employee voice. And most importantly now poor health and well being of direct reports as well. And going back to your first question you said to Wayne I think it's really important that actually in a lot of organisations, just because you have technical expertise, that's what promotes you into management positions and that doesn't necessarily mean you have people management skills. And when people say, "Oh it's OK because they can learn those soft skills and those soft skills are quite easy to do," I actually find that really irksome because it seems that soft skills and communications is an easy thing to learn. And actually from what we've seen from managers it really, really isn't.
NC: So Wayne Clarke, if that's the case how do we know if it's somebody who hasn't been trained or is unsuitable for the job is at fault or whether it's just the design of the job?
WC: Well I think every single organisation is totally different and a lot of organisations believe that they can often retrofit other organisations' solutions on their organisational cultures. Even within organisations you've got multiple subcultures and sub teams and subcultures. And I think in every single organisation we've ever been into, we've now worked with about a thousand different organisations around the world, every single culture tells us and shows us that there is individual best practice that most of those organisations don't learn from very well. And our approach has often been to identify what best practice looks like in those organisations and help other people to learn from it. So I guess in answer to the question, when you look at what we sort of set as a benchmark of whether or not this person is going to be a good manager or not for the organisation, in a way it's kind of too late to consider that. There are very few organisations, based on what we've seen, that have become, as I would call it, consciously aware of the exact thing that they're looking for in order to drive their economic success. I'm an economist by training, and I sort of run into some of the challenges in the people teams, because my argument is that I think a lot of people teams don't really understand the economic engine of the organisation and therefore what actually we should be looking for and what's the essential role of the manager. So in many cases if you were to ask the question in June 2023, "What's the job of the manager in your organisation?" It's not probably what it's been before because everything's changed, but people don't think about it in a new paradigm. It's kind of, always as it was with some tweaks on it and some competencies built around it.
NC: Well you've brought up a massive issue there, what are we actually looking for in a good people manager? Amanda Arrowsmith, where do we start? What other competencies, the behaviours that make a great people manager?
AA: When we're looking for good people managers we're always looking for people, and Zofia touched on it before, we talk about people who get promoted because they're technical experts, and often we make them player managers because not only do they start managing people, but they're also still doing their job. So they're having to be technical experts, play and continue to contribute to a team and to productivity whilst also managing people. And so we're doing all of that to them. We're not necessarily looking at do they have the best communication skills? Can they undertake performance management? Are they really clear on setting out what good looks like and being able to help people and guide people to understand what good looks like? You might have someone who can really understand a production KPI but do they understand how to put a KPI into people performance and help people to drive those forward? Can they deal with conflict? Can they deal with difficult situations? We ask people who perhaps have come through an accountancy route all of a sudden to start talking to people about fertility issues, menopause, potentially the loss of a child, potentially the loss of a family member, a breakdown of a marriage, a house move, getting married, falling in love, moving around the world. And they do all these things as people managers on a day to day basis when actually they're really good at telling you what your balance sheet looks like and where that is, and we don't always equip them to do that.
NC: OK, I want to go to Zofia on this and other things, but before we leave you, I mean, you hinted earlier that you wanted to defend the people profession, but as you went through that list I'm thinking a lot of those things, good people professionals would know quite a lot about. So how has this happened? I mean, we understand the reasons why these roles have moved to the front line where managers can really deal with their people but there must be so many times when they're lacking this expertise and it isn't available.
AA: And sometimes that's the right time for a people professional to step in and to support and provide coaching to the manager or to support the individual. But also if you look at organisations, say you've got an organisation of 5,000 you might have 60, 70 HR people working in that organisation, but you've probably got 2,000 people managers, and they're on the front line and they're in the right place and that kind of immediacy and that need to do it in the right time means that the people professionals' role becomes much more about developing skills' providing toolkits' giving people coaching and mentoring and then being that subject matter expert perhaps when they're needed. I don't know Zofia, what do you think?
ZB: Well I think that I go back to what Cary Cooper sometimes says when he talks about line managers, in that 20% of people are excellent people managers and should stay as people managers. 60%, well they're in the, OK if we give them a bit of training and a bit of coaching then maybe we can push them up to that 20%, and then 20 % of people should not just go near people at all. And actually in a webinar I was with him, he's just like, "Let's just cull them, let's just cull bad managers because bad managers are bad for health." And that sounds quite extreme, but actually I do think in all that rhetoric he's got a really good point. So what we need to do is in that top 20% we need to understand what that 20% has that helps them to excel at the people management aspect of the role and then hopefully with that 60%, with a bit of training maybe we can get them up to that 20% and then leave the other 20% just to do their technical job. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't get an opportunity for further promotion just because they are not line managing. Actually, it's OK not to line manage if you know that you're not going to be a good one. And actually it's probably beneficial for your organisation if you put your hand up to say, "I don't want to manage because I'm not good at it."
NC: Zofia, I kind of get that these people have probably been miscast, but that means they were recruited wrongly to those jobs. I mean, you survey the employment scene, how come these people have got these managers' jobs?
ZB: Because of the way that the organisations are structured, and that's the sad thing. We're living in an old formation of managers here, like I said previously you just get promoted into these positions. And I think that needs to change. We now need to actually look at, in more detail what competencies we want line managers to have. And we need to bound that role, we need to make clear the expectations that we want from line managers, because actually it's easier to say what line managers don't do rather than what they do do at the moment, because the role has just expanded massively. The bandwidth is continuously growing and the resources that managers have to deal with it all is completely reducing.
NC: And in fact Wayne Clarke, those commercial pressures on managers are pretty intense, aren't they? And is there a case for saying that sometimes people managers may have a slightly hazy grasp of the commercial realities that are forcing them to make decisions maybe rather badly?
WC: Yeah and also average managers too. I mean, we've just done, we've got 15,500 managers we've got data on and we've been looking at some really fascinating things. One thing we found, and bearing in mind I'm quite biased because I think these are pretty good managers, is that 47% of managers of the 15,500 that we looked at in our data don't understand the organisation's finances. So if you're the CEO looking at 100 managers you picked at random and 47 have said, "No idea boss what the, what the sort of economic engine of the organisation is let alone people professionals," you know half the managers don't understand it because they're often not communicated to in the right way, they're not shared the right level of context. And I think one of the dangers of the, of the Mr Cooper's stats here, and I don't know if those are the right stats if we're misquoting him or not, so it wouldn't be fair, but it's all too easy to say, "We've got a bunch of managers who are no good let's get rid of them." The truth is if we approach this with real empathy and look at what managers actually have to deal with I think in every individual case you'd reach a conclusion that there's probably some support that could help them, there's a mentorship that could work. I don't believe that there is a bunch of managers that you could routinely just get rid of in an organisation. I just don't see it.
AA: I think that as organisations we get a little bit complacent with managers though. So it's a bit like your driving test. So you pass your driving test at 17, 18, 19 and you're still driving at 20, 30, 40, 50 and you don't have to take another driving test until you get to a certain age and until you perhaps, there's some arbitrary thing about your health failing because you've hit a certain age. And we kind of do that with managers. So we perhaps give them management training early on, or they go into a management role early on and then the development of those managers, it's almost like, "Well you've been a manager once, you continue to be a manager and we allow you to be a manager," and it's the same with everything that we do in business, sometimes you have to recognize when something isn't working. And there are people who just genuinely are technical experts. They're just brilliant at what they do on a technical basis but being a manager, be that either a people manager or a business manager, might not be the right thing for them. I remember working in a law firm early in my career, and we had someone who worked for us who really should have been on the partnership track because he was technically excellent and he, law is very much that kind of time served place which I think you were alluding to earlier, if you've worked somewhere a certain amount of time maybe you should get promoted. And law used to be very much like that, you did so many years you got promoted and that was the route. But this chap should never be allowed near a business, managing a business, but also never be allowed near managing a team because it just wasn't his skillset, it wasn't where he was adding value, but he still had a value in the business. So not all people through their career and through promotion, I guess, will get to be managers.
ZB: Well I think there's also the ability, motivation, opportunity model when it comes to management. So 1) does somebody have the ability to do the job? So here we're talking about the competencies, whether that be technical or people management competencies, then has somebody actually got the motivation to do the role? Because you can, we're at risk of falling into this training gap that we can train somebody and train somebody and train somebody, but if they're not motivated they're not going to do it. And then are we giving people the opportunity to do it? And that goes back to the original question is, "Have we overburdened them and are we giving them the right resources to do?" So once again we can train them and train them and train them but if they don't have the HR support, if they don't have the learning and development support then they're not going to have the opportunity to do that job well. So using that model is actually quite a neat triangulisation of the three things that we want our people managers, line managers technical managers to have.
NC: Yeah, I absolutely see that. And moving on from that, Wayne, I just sort of picked up a random list here of traits of managers who aren't very effective, not giving people feedback or recognition, not supporting their learning and development requirements, not listening to people's concerns, not defining people's responsibility, never asking for feedback about their own performance. I mean, we could go on forever and think about managers we've worked for or whatever and their shortcomings. Can you give us some practical ideas now? What are the most reliable actions you can initiate within your organisation to assess your managers' abilities and then perhaps help them and re engineer the role so you improve the overall performance?
WC: But if you look at, I guess, you know, most of the management models that people still think are active and are useful were based on the fact that we were in fields or in factories producing widgets per hour. So the knowledge worker is a very different sort of kettle of fish when it comes to getting people to be productive. I think one of the most effective mechanisms or methods, or things you can do, is having a really good regular quality one to one with your team. It's probably the biggest thing that we would focus on. The reason being is I spent five years involved with looking at data as part of The Sunday Times process. After I left corporate I was in professional service firms for about 11, 12 years and one of the lowest scoring questions that we looked at in every organisation we came across, which is the question which says, "I've got skills that the organisation could use but doesn't." Which is quite strange because in June 2023 where lots of people are saying they're overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid, stressed out on one hand, on the other hand they're saying, "I'm massively underutilised." So, you know, the good quality regular one to one, whether organisations have got tons of money to spend on L&D or whether we've seen charities that have got zero budgets, nothing at all to spend on L&D, doesn't matter. A good quality regular one to one with a line manager seems to make a massive impact. The skills that you need for that of course are things like you know, empathy really helps, having an interest in people really helps. And then on the other side of it you need an individual who is actively caring about their own growth and development, you know, I lecture at a couple of universities and one of the things I try and get across to undergrads and postgrads is this really important point that nobody, maybe your mum or dad if you're lucky, cares more about your growth and development than you do or should do. You know, the idea that, you know, you're going to work for an organisation which has got a deep level of care for your growth and your future. If you drop lucky into an organisation at the right point in time consider yourself lucky. But in a way there's no universal right or human right that an organisation is going to care about your growth and development. So requires like a bit of a deal right, a bit of a contract. On one hand you've got someone who cares about developing themselves and wants to invest time and energy to do so and on the other hand you've got a caring, listening, empathic manager who cares about connecting you to opportunities that might exist in the organisation to grow and develop you.
NC: Yeah, now you talk about a caring and empathetic manager there. I totally get that thing about getting people to have these regular conversations. But Amanda, emotional intelligence is not easy, you can have a conversation with somebody, but if you're not very good at all that side of things you may still miss the things they don't say, the things that they really mean. You have to interpret almost what's unsaid as much as what is said. So my point really is, can you teach that?
AA: Well, I think that just before I get into can you teach it, and that's even harder when you're dealing on screen, and you're dealing in 2D. Because at least when you were in person with someone you could kind of get that sixth sense bit, that kind of someone might be feeling a bit down and it's, so it's, there's an added layer of that now. Can you teach it? Can you learn it? Yes and no. So, I believe that you can develop skills and tools and things that work for you that help you to navigate that very human interaction. And that's kind of where some of the role of the people professional comes in, in supporting the line manager, working in partnership with the line manager to perhaps prepare them for those conversations, giving them tools, giving them systems and processes that work for them, but also helping them with those skills, teaching them communication skills. You know, Wayne talked earlier about the people that he's worked with and developed, and you can see that and you can teach them. There are going to be people perhaps who they're always going to find it a bit difficult and they're always going to find it a bit awkward and that for me is where your people professional, your HR professional, your L&D manager, support has to step up and recognise that they can't do a one size fits all training for managers and we need to recognise that we're, it has to be personalised sometimes and you are going to have to work with different people individually.
ZB: I think it was fascinating that Amanda brought in the whole hybrid nature of this now and emotional intelligence in the hybrid world. And we've seen that throughout the pandemic really where I see we've had accidental heroes and accidental villains when we're talking about line managers. So we've got the people who just somehow navigated through this messy world of work of change that Covid just threw at us, and they understood actually that whether somebody was working in a hybrid world or there were key workers on the front line they just needed that support. They needed that check in, they needed that, "How are you doing?" And were able to do it. And then you had the accidental villains who just thought, "I can just carry on in the line management and how I was doing it before," and that just hasn't worked, because it's different. The world of work has changed, the Covid pandemic has affected everybody individually and if a line manager didn't recognise that then that's where we have the issue. You know, we had people who joined the pandemic or in the hybrid world now have extra caring responsibilities, may have been affected, may have had a bereavement, may have had their mental health affected or their well being affected by the whole change and transition. And if line managers haven't got that then they have become an accidental villain if they haven't changed their practice towards how they manage people.
NC: I like the idea of an accidental villain, but we have accidental heroes as well Wayne, and I guess we just want to make more of them?
WC: We do, I'm actually meeting one later on this afternoon for a bit of a surprise for him. So by the time the podcast goes out I won't be spoiling the surprise. But his name is Jonathan Raggett and he is the CEO of Red Carnation Hotels. Red Carnation sort of popped into my consciousness a number of years ago because they achieved the number two position on The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For, which is really tough. If you understand anything about the list and also as a hotelier with an average salary of 20 odd thousand versus a sort of, you know, corporate bank average salary of about 300,000 and they beat some of those big corporate banks on the engagement score. They've got about 3,000 staff in 20 hotels across six, seven countries. What we've learned is that they are exceptional, and the two things if I could boil it down that they get right so well, one is the selection process, they've become consciously aware of exactly what they're looking for in their organisation, which is unlike many organisations, and the second thing is if you look into the mechanics of how it works, and it sounds so simple, but it gets done, which is the big difference. Every 12 weeks every person in the organisation, and we're talking across 20 hotels in 6 countries is having a conversation with their line manager which essentially revolves around two really important questions based on, "How are you feeling, how are you doing?" And what happens is that entire organisation every three months has a cathartic exercise of getting stuff off their chest, and it might not be as a manager that I can pay your gas bill for you this month because I know you can't afford that. People have got all sorts of fears and concerns, but it can be that I can listen and have you feel like you are cared for, and that's the important element of it. Now if for example you've just fuelled up your jet and flown in from LA and you've chosen to stay at the best hotel in London on Tripadvisor as guests would do such a thing, really important to every single aspect of your guest experience is going to be that every, at every point, every touch point you feel like someone really cares about your experience. So the key thing that they're looking for in the interview process, they're looking for, "Do you, have you ever created a memorable experience for someone?" You know, if you're asking someone that question and they're drawing a blank then probably it's not the right type of person for that type of service delivery which you could bring back to looking at the manager selection process. You know, what have we learned about the organisation that tells us what the key role in the job of the manager is? If we suspect we've got two candidates who are both technically as competent but one's more towards that type of behavior, that person should be selected all day long, but they're not because often we don't really understand what we're looking for and the structure of the organisation dictates that it's quite odd that we've got to put people into management positions at certain pay rates.
ZB: So IAS have done some research recently, especially over the pandemic about what direct reports want from their managers. And I think going back to your question about, "How can organisations choose good managers?" Listen to your people, right? That's going to be the best one. There's that adage of, join an organisation, leave a manager, look at your HR analytics, see what's going on. If there's spots in your organisation where there's clear retention issues let's have a focus then on that. Why is that happening? But our research is saying, so we asked direct reports what do you want from your managers? Technical expertise wasn't there at all. What they wanted was somebody who listened to them who gave them voice and looked after their well being. That's what the top three things were. Would really suggest to your organisations, we collect HR data for a reason, let's use it. Use your data that you have to understand what's going on in your organisation and then you can be able to change it.
NC: Well Amanda Arrowsmith's nodding there. As we sort of try and bring this to some kind of conclusion, Amanda a few kind of ideas maybe for how you do forge these better partnerships, a better support network between people managers and the people professionals?
AA: I believe as the people profession we have to stop trying to force a process and system on managers that takes the human out of it. We have to remember human. I was really pleased to hear Wayne say something about that, those two questions, so the, "How are you doing?" I wrote a blog many years ago which is part of a book of blogs called This Time It's Personnel which was, you can get on Kindle and download, it's from lots of different HR practitioners. The reason I was smiling was I literally said, "You just asked five questions. How are you doing? What's going well? What can I or we as the company do more of or better? What can you do or differently, or what can you help to do differently?" But also, "What's next for you?" So I think as people professionals let's support managers, recognising they're individuals and they have individual needs. Let's give them the tools and processes and systems that work for them but let's not over engineer it and make it something that takes the human out of what they're doing.
NC: And finally Amanda, I mean, people professionals are under a lot of pressure, they've got a lot of other new duties, are they going to have to in the end reclaim some of these jobs that once the people manager is established someone needs something they're going to have to put them back to the people professional?
AA: I hope not, but I think that, and I don't want to start getting into it, but I think if we look at what's coming down the AI route and how much of that process and system comes, if we embrace AI as a people profession that could probably take some of that process system admin stuff out for managers and actually allow managers to deal with the stuff that makes a difference and be human.
ZB: I'd like to add two points to that. I think sometimes the people management and the personnel management system can place the line manager in a really, really difficult position here. And we normally say as they can either become an advocate for a policy or an apologist for a policy they're in a position where they might have to say, "Well we're doing this because this is what the policy says. Where actually what they want to say is, "I'm really, really, really, really sorry that we're having to do it this way. I wouldn't have done it this way, but this is what the policy is telling me to do." And I think that position there is what line managers find very, very difficult because they're torn both ways. I think the other thing that we really haven't discussed today, but I think is really, really important is the well being of the line manager themselves, because we know that especially over the pandemic, line managers who have done the more, "How are you doing? How are you doing? How are you, looking well? Are you looking after yourself?" They were experiencing more stress and reduced well being themselves. So the greater the span of their control that they're having, the worse impact it's having on their own well being. And that's where I think the people profession can really come in and support the line manager with their own well being. It's not a massively discussed issue. It's a really hidden issue but one that really, really does need to be shouted about going forward.
NC: It's been brilliant to hear from you all. Thanks very much. Wayne Clarke from the Global Growth Institute, Amanda Arrowsmith here at the CIPD and Zofia Bajorek from the Institute for Employment Studies. There's resources on all aspects of people management on the CIPD website. What have I learned? Well, simply why recruiting or promoting the right managers, training them and supporting them now has to be a number one priority as we've heard in this post Covid, hybrid age of working. And I was also struck by something Wayne said there, about people professionals would do well to get a better understanding of the hard business, how their organisation makes money, what its priorities are, so as to grasp the detail of what managers have on their plate. Quite a response to last month's Learning and Development edition on springing surprises in training. It was a good consensus that it's managing to make an emotional connection with your participants that is half the battle. So do have a listen to that podcast if you haven't and check out all our recent back catalogue. Next time getting to grips with the human element of cyber security, after all it is not just for the IT department. Until then from me, Nigel Cassidy and all of us at CIPD, it's goodbye.
Learn why organisations use business partnering, how it’s implemented and how it can shape successful relationships across the organisation.
An overview of HR outsourcing, its use within organisations and its alternatives
Practical guidance for managers on preventing and reducing stress at work
Podcast 200: Has working remotely killed organisational culture?
Podcast 199: Listen to this podcast as we unpack how learning professionals can work smarter, not harder, to overcome capacity challenges and prioritise the right things
Podcast 198: Hear how the management of cybersecurity revolves around your people, and how you can mitigate the risk