Why should I manage people?

My work regularly brings me in touch with managers from different functions. Couple of weeks back, I was chatting with the Production Head of a factory. After few minutes, our conversation turned towards the challenges he was facing with two people in his team. I could see the frustration on his face. Being an engineer, handling a machine or production problem came to him naturally. He was trained for it. But, handling people was all together a different ball game! He lamented, “I am responsible for product delivery and smooth functioning of my factory. I am measured for delivery, not for managing people. Where should I focus? Delivery or people? People issues are eating into my bandwidth. I wish someone would take care of people issues for me?”

Being an intelligent and practical man, he intuitively knew the answer. As a Production Head, managing people was his responsibility. At cognitive level, he knew that people issues – if handled well – can improve overall productivity and efficiency of his plant. However, he found it difficult to transfer it into action. He was directly measured for something else. And after all, what gets measured is what gets done!

This is an interesting dilemma faced by several functional managers even at senior levels – ‘functional deliverables’ vs ‘people’. Some do not consider this a part of their job, people are just another hurdle to be crossed in order to achieve the functional goals. While few other consider ‘managing people’ an added responsibility.

This dilemma becomes even more complex in cultures with high power distance. In such cultures, seniority of a person is determined by the number of people reporting to him. Managers want a lot of people to report to them – as it gives them a sense of power and growth. However, they do not like to manage people.

Thus comes the twist in the tale: several managers enjoy people reporting to them and the privileges associated with being a boss; but do not particularly enjoy managing people or do not know how to manage.

When I asked my colleague, the Production Head, if he knew the expectations his team members had from him as a manager. His response was halting, little vague and theoretical. Then I asked if he had any expectations from his manager. To no surprise of mine, he was clear and rattled off quite a few expectations – “my manager should know me as a person, care for me, give me good developmental opportunities, give me regular feedback, etc. etc.” I could not help smiling; he saw me smile, paused mid-sentence, thought for a moment and said, “You want me to flip this for my team members’ right?” All I had to do was give an affirmative nod.

What’s at the root of this dilemma and the significant challenge faced by managers? Probably lack of:

Appropriate mindset – Accept that it’s not ‘people’ vs ‘deliverables’. Instead, ‘people’ and ‘deliverables’ is the way to success.

Adequate skills – Managing people is also a skill, there are several aspects to managing people. These need to be learnt and continuously practiced.

Adequate number of role models – Good people managers who can be emulated by others.

Does it require additional efforts on manager’s part to develop the necessary mindset and skills? Yes, to some extent. Learning any new skill takes time and effort. Changing mindset is even tougher.

What’s in it for the managers? Why should they take on this additional load?

There is lot of global research that indicate direct correlation between good people management and business results. But, I would prefer to keep it closer home.

Think of the time when you were working with someone really good; your best ever manager. What kind of results you did you deliver? What about others working in your team with the same manager?

Now compare it with a time when you worked with someone who was not good, your worst ever manager. What kind of results did you deliver?

Do you see any difference in your deliverables (and that of the team) – with the best and the worst manager? I am confident it’s a resounding yes.

Isn’t that a reason enough to ‘manage people well’? And invest time to learn the necessary mindset and skills. Think about it.

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