Front Line Managers as People Managers

According to a CIPD  report in 2003, one of the keys to managing performance through people is triggering discretionary behaviour in employees so that employees go the “extra mile” for the organisation.

People are more likely to engage in positive discretionary behaviour when they feel motivated, are satisfied with their jobs and are committed to their employer. These outcomes are usually a result of many factors. One factor relates to the Front Line Manager and if they embrace their people management role and how well they execute this function.

The People Management function is often thought to be the sole responsibility of Human Resources and any people problem a manager experienced, the employee would be quickly referred to Human Resources. This view is quickly changing to one that holds the Line Manager responsible for people management as well.

People Management comprises activities like employee relations, performance appraisals, coaching, mentoring, developing, training, recruitment, absence management, work life balance, career management, problem solving, listening, communicating, enforcing policies and the list can go on and on.

Promotion from within is an excellent motivational tool (career mobility) and organisations sought and still seek today to ensure a proper balance of internal promotion (consistency) with external recruitment (creativity). However, when an employee is promoted to a manager role because of the great job they did in the old position, hoping they will perform equally well in the new position regardless of the fact that the new position requires a different set of knowledge, skills and abilities, this leads to a misfit and the results are disastrous to all concerned. You gain a bad manager and lose a great technical expert.

In the past, the Line commented that the people management activities made up the Human Resource function and “why Human Resources wanted to pass on their work to them, they have enough work as it is, no time to manage people”.

How do we move from the Line expressing the above sentiment to a complete turnaround of embracing the people management function with complete ownership and accountability?

One of the first things, I would recommend, is to refine the role of the manager with a specific emphasis on people management and decreasing their transactional role as a normal worker.  Traditionally the job details for a manager include processing duties like that of his /her employees plus the management duties. Hence, a re-definition of the job, the expectations and the requirements to fill the role with an emphasis on the behavioural competencies are needed. Keep in mind, this must be consistent with the company’s core values and people philosophy. Anything we do in Human Resource, organisational alignment is critical.

We don’t have the luxury of starting from a clean slate, what do we do with the candidates in manager’s roles who are not best suited for those jobs? Well, we systematically compare their performance and their tool kit of skills, abilities, behavioural competencies and knowledge to what is listed in the re-defined job. We may also want to solicit some feedback on the people management aspects from their staff. This can be anonymously done and it would serve as a great source of data on the actual people management skills of the manager. The results will help identify varying degrees of job fit or gaps. A decision will have to be made on which candidates can be trained to perform or maybe from the onset, a candidate maybe seen to be a clear square peg in a round hole and may perform better in a highly technical role. It is important to note that the manager who does not perform well in the people management role but was great in the technical role may be suffering great internal chaos and may welcome reverting to one’s comfort zone.

By now, we would have identified candidates that need to be trained on how to perform their people management role. In my company, we developed a “Management Development Programme” which is aimed at training our managers according to our re-defined manager profile (emphasis on people management). Our programme is staffed by an internal faculty, that means our own Executives and selected managers are intended to deliver the training. This allows for increased networking among the staff and Executives. It gives the Executives an opportunity to showcase their knowledge of the respective discipline or area of expertise and also provides a sense of satisfaction knowing that they are helping the staff develop.  The key about the training is not only about the “what” but more importantly about the “how”. The “how” speaks to the soft skills training of handling performance challenges, grievances, discipline problems, communication and the like.

Measures of success may range from turnover rates with reasons, absenteeism rates, employee feedback scores, number of employee relation issues escalated for resolution at a higher level, percentage of training gap among team, percentage of new employees confirmed on time among others that can be aligned to one’s won situation.  In my company, we have a 180 degree feedback form completed by a manager’s direct reports on the manager and we also include people measures and targets on the people perspective of their respective balanced scorecards.

Line managers should specifically pay attention to conducting frequent quality performance appraisals where performance feedback is exchanged periodically. Training, coaching, guidance, involvement and communication are key areas for the manager to invest time in. One’s direct reports must feel a sense of openness to discuss matters easily. Work life balance is becoming increasingly important and as such should be respected by the manager and finally recognition is critical, a simple “thank you, great job” does not cost much. It will be wonderful if the organisation has a reward and recognition programme that is easy to use without any bureaucracy and too many authorisations to slow down the process. Rewards should immediately or as close to the action being rewarded.

Managers are people too  and as much as they have a huge responsibility of managing their staff, the organisation must recognise that the managers also have needs. Too often, the organisation may take the middle level managers for granted, where they are expected to turn stone into cheese with little or minimal resources. Lack of resources, unrealistic deadlines, with conflicting tasks and deliverables only serve to manifest itself negatively in the way the employees are treated by the same manager is stressed.  Organisations are well-advised to listen to their managers and treat them in much the same way they would like them to treat the general staff.

[email_link]

Employee Retention

Competitive pay and benefits can get talent in the door, but can the money keep the talent? When employers demonstrate a commitment to work life balance, commitment to providing career development and training opportunities, with a supportive flexible working environment, caring attitude towards staff and a strong balanced emotionally intelligent management and leadership, they have found the key to retaining high-potential employees.

Often I hear employees say all they want is more money and they will be motivated. I had a conversation with a senior engineer recently and the discussion started off by him saying HR people need to understand that money is the ultimate motivator, just pay people more.

I, like Herzberg, believe money to be a satisfier not necessarily a motivator. After an employee is being paid competitively, any incremental increase in money will not necessarily translate into any related incremental increase in performance. One person’s capacity is finite and one usually has an equilibrium point of effort they exert to achieve company targets, objectives and tasks. What do I mean by “equilibrium point”, you know when someone has peaks and depressions of performance, due to various reasons, well they eventually return to their normal work pace.

Our challenge as HR professionals is to optimise employee’s performance by moving their equilibrium work pace upwards. This means that we work towards achieving sustainable high levels of quality performance by fully engaging the employee and thereby retaining talent. The phrase “fully engaging the employee” is a compounded concept that is as a result of many contributing factors, some of them were mentioned in the first paragraph above.

Towers Perrin’s 2007 Global Workforce Study explored the drivers of workforce engagement and noted that although relationships with managers are important, the actions of senior leadership and workplace programmes hold even greater weight. I will share my thoughts on the line manager’s role.

Line managers and their ability to manage people is a current challenge. This has been brought about by promoting technical competence into managerial positions, thereby losing a good technical resource and possibly gaining a bad manager. More often, these newly appointed technical resources are not equipped with the tools necessary to manage people. Yes, sometimes we make grave errors in using wrong criteria for promotion and we further compound the error by not providing the necessary training intervention and then we expect stellar performance from this promoted candidate.

The first challenge after finding yourself in this situation is to get the managers to accept people management as their responsibility. This message must come from the top and continuously be supported by all the senior Executives. The managers must not be allowed to abdicate their people management role to Human Resource. They also must not use HR as a “scapegoat” where they often say “It is not me, that is a HR policy, HR set that rule”. The Line Managers often want HR to write a rule about everything under the sun. This way, the line can refer to rule 3.2 under subsection 4 of policy x as the reason why they cannot do something.

I suggest a comprehensive training programme comprising of seminars, workshops, role plays, and mentors supported by the performance management system to help drive change among the manager group.

The training I played a part in develping looks at thirteen sections. Section one focuses on the big picture, role definition, organisational culture, reason for their team and managing upwards. Section two addresses the issue of transitioning from employee to manager, followed by managing tasks and objectives, setting targets, managing and measuring team performance. Section four looks at leadership, styles of leadership, and how to vary styles according to staff demographics (generation, age, gender, etc…). The other areas are customer service, networking, time management, delegation, coaching, industrial relations, using the HRIS and performance management with emphasis on managing poor performance. These areas should also be slanted and aligned to the strategic direction of the organisation.

In addition to the training, we designed a 180 degree feedback form be completed by the managers’ direct reports. The form was designed according to the ideal profile of a manager in my organisation. The ideal profile also informs the promotion criteria and the selection criteria and is also used as the benchmark when conducting training needs assessments. The form was designed to produce one single score and this is used as a measure in their people perspective of their respective scorecards.

We identified a number of measures that are indicative of the Line Manager’s people management skills. One of which is the number of employee relation issues that have been escalated to the division head and or HR which could have been handled at the managerial level. Other measures are the percentage of leave taken, the turnover (for specific reasons) within the department, and number of employees nominated for and received spot awards, and quarterly awards. The criteria for these awards are also aligned to the organisation’s desired culture and strategic direction.

One should also have baseline figures for these measures before using them as legitimate measures to track progress.

We have also re-organised HR to provide an increased business focus and support to the line managers in carrying out their duties.

In effect, when a decision is made to empower and train the line to have total responsibility and accountability for managing staff, the rest of the employees in the organisation have to align themselves to support that decision. The Mckinsey Seven S model is a useful tool to ensure all areas are addressed.

At the end of my conversation with the Engineer, after we exchanged stories about managers and how they manage, he admittedly declared that when his manager behaves in a certain way, it encourages him to surf the internet all day regardless of his high salary, positive upbringing and work ethic.

[email_link]