How to Manage People in 2021

There’s no avoiding the continuing impacts of Covid-19. Organisations have had to rapidly embrace whole new ways of working and managers have been plunged into getting results through people they are no longer seeing every day.

As business psychologists, we’ve been keen to understand how the highest performing people managers have coped with the past months and how they are likely to approach the next year. We carried out a piece of research involving 150 L&D and HR heads in a wide variety of global organisations to find out.

What we uncovered reinforced our own experiences of working closely with managers and emphasised the overwhelming need to focus on relationships.  There’s no escaping the fact that a trusting, open and positive connection between a manager and direct report is key to engagement, motivation and productivity. This has always been the case but it’s more important and challenging than ever right now. Neglect it at your peril!

So, what did the research suggest are the top five relationship focused behaviours needed by managers over the next year?

1.  Support Wellbeing

“My manager cares sincerely about what’s happening to me.”

Individuals have very different circumstances and will be impacted in different ways by the pressures placed on them by new ways of working. The best managers will seek to understand these impacts and help their team members adjust in a way that maintains their physical and mental wellbeing.

Managers should be prepared to ask questions that matter and listen deeply to the answers. It’s not enough to offer a cursory “How are you?”. Take the time to fully understand the perspective of the other person by asking them what they need and give them the space to admit that they may be struggling.

2. Maintain Engagement

 “I am making progress towards meaningful goals; my work matters and I have a voice within my organisation.”

Managers have an important role to play in ensuring that people:

The best managers have regular two-way conversations with employees around their engagement and are willing to listen even when it may be uncomfortable, taking action where necessary.

3.  Connect Teams

 “I belong, I’m part of something, we’re in this together.”

The highest performing managers recognise that team cohesion, a sense of belonging and a spirit of shared momentum are key to helping individuals ride through the uncertainties and emotional upheaval of working within the pandemic.

Recognising inputs, highlighting collective progress and creating opportunities for collaboration are fundamental to maintaining morale and momentum.

While we have to accept that we can’t replicate water cooler moments from home in the way that they happen naturally in the office, by being more thoughtful about the conversations team members need to have with each other, managers can facilitate virtual meetings and get togethers that not only give space to agree new direction and goals but also provide time for people to connect.

4.  Enable Autonomy

 “I have true ownership of my work; I am trusted and have the space to make a difference in my way.”

Great managers recognise that giving individuals autonomy and ownership is hugely motivational, building a foundation of deep trust and respect.

Demonstrating a belief in their abilities and a willingness to accept their approach gives individuals space to stretch themselves and produce work they are truly proud of.  Micro-management is rarely effective, resist the urge to control!

5.  Be Adaptable

 “My manager is adaptable and flexible, together we can find the positives and the opportunities in whatever comes our way.”

Faced with so much change, the most successful managers will be those with a positive and resilient mindset who are able to role model a willingness to adapt quickly to new situations, and are courageously curious to explore what’s possible rather than getting stuck.

In summary

Whilst all of these behaviours are more easily displayed through face-to-face interaction, the need to be considered and deliberate about them rather than expecting them to happen organically at least gives managers an opportunity to focus where it matters.  Managers must continue to hone their remote skills and experiment with ways to help individuals shine without relying on being alongside them.

Managers matter more than ever; this is your opportunity to make a powerful difference to the people who work for you and your organisation.











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