Let’s build better people managers

Written by

Joel Basanta

Published on

All ArticlesLeadership and Talent Development

On August 2, 2022, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) launched its latest offering, People Management Qualification (PMQ), with HRMATT as its Regional Partner. HR Managers from around the Caribbean gathered online to get a first look at a new interactive, self-paced e-Learning solution for management/supervisory training.

In the process, they gained insight into why Johnny Taylor, SHRM’s President and CEO, concluded “it is time for organisations to become more people-centric.”

Probing the effect of workplace culture on employees, SHRM’s 2019 survey of the US Workforce found:

• 1/5 left a job due to workplace culture.

• 76% believe managers set the culture of their workplace.

• 36% said their manager doesn’t know how to lead.

• 58% of those who left their jobs due to culture claim People Managers are the main reason they ultimately left.

In other words, there is truth behind the popular meme “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.”

A few years ago, feeling increasingly ineffective as a manager and less able to resolve sticky situations with the ease I had in the past, I went shopping for new approaches.

I eventually connected with an excellent life and career coach using a suite of tools that would prompt me to go back to school to re-learn management science from an applied neurological perspective. The thing that stood out most for me was how very wrong we got leadership development and people management in the 20th Century. Simply put, much of traditional management theory and practice is counter-productive to how the brain works.

Compound this with the assumption that when it comes to decision-making we use logical thinking first (we do not); and that someone who is technically proficient, will naturally be able to guide others on how to be just as good (not necessarily so); and we begin to see why some people fail when put in a leadership role.

In re-examining past difficult conversations and conflicts from the perspective of how the brain works, I gained new insights as to how and why traditional approaches triggered people’s threat response and “flight or fright” mode.

What we hold up as best practices for high performance often succeeds not because employees feel genuinely inspired or motivated to deliver, but because they have come to believe that failure to deliver will lead to loss of earning, opportunities, and ultimately their job.

With the rise of wireless connections, cellphones, and expanded use of digital networks we began overtaxing the brain by asking it to “multi-task” when it is designed to work on one thing at a time.

Worse are the increasing incursions into off-hours. We have come to expect employees to work long hours and remain “always-on’—often without expectation of extra pay.

These late 20th-century management practices, which are still in play today, put the entire workforce, managers and employees alike, into a constant state of distraction, exhaustion, and exasperation.

Neuroscience has proven that the brain, when tired, unable to focus, or experiencing extremes of emotions, makes errors in judgement.

Thus, the hurriedly dashed off bit of text or the clarifying question morphs into “the harsh email” or “disrespectful attitude” that creates offense.

Cumulatively, individual acts of misunderstanding and mishandling breed toxicity.

Poor people management is at the root of disengaged staff, high accident rates, underperforming teams, poor customer service, loss of reputation and business, rising costs, declining sales, and ultimately firing or quitting, whichever comes first.

Small wonder then, that once forced to unplug during the COVID lock-downs, many employees remain unwilling to return to the workplace, even as managers trying to restore their own sense of control and feeling the pressure to restore profits, insist that they do so under terms that are no longer seen as desirable.

In the US, this conflict has given rise to the Great Resignation.

But in crisis there is opportunity, and here I think we have a chance for the Great Reset.

While organisations have long accepted that leadership development is important, and despite the mushrooming of training in the field and billions spent, SHRM’s study turns the spotlight on the secret worry of many HR Managers, organisations are getting worse, not better at managing people.

In describing the process of developing and testing the new people management content and software, SHRM’s Nick Schacht noted that they started first by asking what people disliked most about e-learning.

Then they tried different content and methods until they hit upon the combination that created a positive experience.

It’s an approach we should all be taking when we consider how to better select and support our people managers.

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