One of the biggest blind spots most organisations suffer from is the failure to understand the significance of people management and it’s impact on the business. People management skills don’t just make for a happier workplace, they can make a big difference to the bottom line too.
It’s this link between people management skills and performance and productivity which is seldom recognised. If it is and training is given it often falls short of delivering any significant change.
The flip side – bad managers and what they can cost in lost productivity through people disengagement, stress, absenteeism and sickness (both genuine and not) is also a causal relationship that suffers from organisational myopia.
Many times in my past corporate career I saw middle and senior managers terrorise people, reducing them to emotional wreaks and diminished versions of themselves. For some the emotional stress gave way to physical sickness and in one case hospitalisation. The managers however, survived and continued as normal.
Even ‘normal’ people managers - that is managers who are decent people and don’t have unhealthy interactions with their people - often fail to get the best from them. They aim for compliance and delivery, not maximised results that exceed expectations. They extract outputs from ‘human assets’ as per job descriptions and Key Performance Indicators.
And the surprising truth is that many managers and organisations are content with that. Obedience is still a highly valued characteristic in some workplace cultures even in the 21st century.
This is surprising at a time when Gallup’s latest survey done in 2017 tells us that 85% of the world's one billion workforce is disengaged with their work and costing a staggering US$7 trillion in lost productivity. Gallup’s chairman Jim Clifton believes this is one of the reasons for the decline in global productivity in the last few decades.
Where companies have attempted to redress the issue they’ve often focused on elements that yield low returns or no change. Lavish dinners, discounted gyms and wellbeing services do not make an engagement strategy - especially if you have to go back to a boss who fails to inspire you or raises your blood pressure.
Why don’t organisations and business pundits get this right? We can decode the human genome and prepare for space tourism but we can’t get people to love their work, rise to their potential and produce their best. The answer lies in the rarity of talent for managing people. In fact Gallup's research shows that about only one in ten people possess high talent to manage people.
What is great people management? One of the problems is that it’s insufficiently defined with no universal agreement. Management consultants haven’t channelled it into a precise process and given it a buzzword label that reduces down to an acronym. ‘GPM’ doesn’t exist as a key goal in organisational strategy along with Marketing, Finance and Product Development despite its considerable returns and the potential for competitive advantage.
However, we maybe grateful for consultants staying away. Because great people management – hereafter GPM - doesn’t rely on processes, concentric circles and bar charts but on human behaviour and the underlying emotions that drive that behaviour.
The subject of emotions has not been part of traditional workplace territory or business education which is probably why the route to GPM has remained elusive and rare. Corporate workplaces in particular expect an unnatural divorce of people and their emotions as soon as they slap their IDs on the barrier and enter work.
GPM means more than getting willing compliance and engagement from your people, even though this achievement alone would be great progress for many.
We have to go beyond this level and enter the world of human potential. I call this state ‘Flourishing’. It’s a state where multiple human aspects are engaged – mental, emotional, intellectual, creative and even spiritual for purpose and meaning.
Flourishing accesses a level where people are contributing their best, growing, learning and feeling really good about themselves. The experience of this personal richness drives the energy for wanting more thus generating its own self-fuelling source. And all this inner drive gets channelled into great work.
Anything that can take people to this level is gold. The number one generator for achieving this state in people is the direct manager.
The irony is that organisations can rarely take people to this level but managers can. This is good news on one level. It’s much cheaper to recruit or train a manager in great people skills than it is to implement expensive carrot approaches such as perks or even pay rises.
This view is echoed by Marcus Buckingham in his book First Break All The Rules – What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently where he says “It’s better to work for a great manager in an old fashioned company than for a terrible manager in a company offering an enlightened, employee focused culture”.
The question is really the how and the what when it comes to people management development. It isn’t limited to implementing techniques such as good communication and recognising strengths.
It requires depth from the inner space of a manager as a human being rather than from her role as an authority over people. At this human level the role of people manager is redefined with the awareness that she has a big responsibility as an influencer and shaper of people’s lives at work and even beyond.
She is instrumental in creating the quality of their emotional and mental wellbeing at work such as self-esteem and her guidance – and who she is being - can take them to high levels of potential and personal enrichment.
If this all sounds a bit out there and beyond the role of a manager then think of anyone you know that has suffered from boss stress and worse still, takes the stress home with them to their partners or family, invading their personal space and time. It could even be you.
I call this state ‘Emotional Wholeness’. This is an evolved emotional state where the manager not only re-defines his role as influencer of people’s lives but is also big enough to allow them to grow and shine. This requires emotional maturity rather than the implementation of extrinsic factors such as regular team updates because growing another’s potential can’t co-exist with a personal fear of being outshone and losing your power. A need to prioritise personal ambitions and making yourself number one will also struggle with attempts to develop the highest potential of people being managed. The degree to which people flourish is in proportion to the degree of emotional wholeness the manager has.
Going through the motions of playing caring manager won’t cut it. People can sense inauthenticity a mile off. Emotional wholeness is a genuine shift to another level of being.
Rest assured emotionally whole managers who champion their people does not imply martyr like subjugation of personal prominence and visibility. The paradox is that the more a manager makes her people shine, grow and achieve, the greater they make her look. In fact a greater sense of self, presence and self-assurance is achieved when she’s acknowledged as the person generating amazing results from her people.
It also doesn’t mean that managers have to play nice, people pleasers either. When tough decisions have to made or firm words spoken they are often received without challenge, even acceptance by her people because they already have the psychological safety and assurance of a caring manager.
But emotional wholeness is not a common trait.
As humans we don’t get education in emotional wholeness no matter what our social or cultural backgrounds are. That’s pretty much left to parents who mould our formative years and it’s a rare person who emerges into adulthood and beyond with no conscious or subconscious bruising.
The workplace doesn’t cultivate emotional wholeness either. It encourages goal attainment, looking good, ambition and internal competition – a perfect recipe for self-protection and self-serving management styles.
Emotional intelligence, thanks to Daniel Goleman has made some inroads into leadership development but it seldom penetrates the larger ranks of new, middle and senior managers – the levels that have the most contact with the majority of people in an organisation.
Whilst experience and qualifications - and usually the ability to keep in with the senior managers- count towards recruitment and promotion decisions, the degree of emotional wholeness is an absent criteria. The manager a team gets will never be assessed for her ability to make peoples' work lives productive, rewarding and emotionally rich. What they get is left to chance.
The good news is that degrees of emotional wholeness can be gained though training and developing awareness, personal assessment and implementation. However it requires honest self-enquiry and exploration of personal motives and subconscious drivers. It can also be an uncomfortable journey especially for hardened egos that put self first.
However as we enter new futures of AI, complex technology, industry disruption and conscious consumers we also need a new management model that gets the best out of increasingly smart, highly qualified, creative employees who know what they want.
It’s time organisations disrupted their own thinking about people in the workplace. They need to acknowledge that emotions are a driving force of human behaviour and they can be harnessed for great benefit - for people, managers and organisational success.
To get there they must develop the most powerful asset managers can utilise to enable their people to flourish. Their emotional wholeness.
By Harjeet Virdee
Gallup’s State of The Global Workplace 2017
What Workers Need from Their Bosses Podcast by Jim Hartner Ph.D, Gallup chief scientist of international workplace management and wellbeing practices January 2018
First Break All the Rules – What the world’s greatest managers do differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Gallup report Only One in 10 People Possess the Talent to Manage by Amy Adkins, April 13th 2015
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