Request a demo
Back to Blog

What is people management?

March 15, 2022 - 18 min read

image of two peple collaborating

Jump to section

What is people management?

Why is effective people management so important?

Key people management skills

Tips for effective people management

How to develop your people management skills

People management stems from HR and reaches leaders and employees across an organization. Effective people management can improve morale and employee engagement, reduce turnover, and enhance communication throughout teams.

Let's take a closer look at what people management is, how it supports teams, and the skills that make up effective people management.

What is people management?

People managers handle all people-related tasks involving new talent, employee engagement, and career development. They are often responsible for the onboarding and training processes of new employees. 

After onboarding, people managers then support and work alongside managers to provide feedback and mentorship to employees. This collaborative approach to people management helps employees reach their goals and work cohesively with the team.

Falling under the umbrella of Human Resource Management (HRM), people management encompasses a wide range of responsibilities. Here's a list of the top priorities for most people managers:

Why is effective people management so important?

Since people are often at the heart of an organization, their manager's leadership style is crucial for a functional company. Effective people management can help boost retention, employee engagement, and organizational effectiveness.


Managers can significantly impact employee experience.

It has been said that people don't leave a company; they leave a manager. Plus, people often remember the great managers who looked out for them and helped them reach their goals. 

By developing an effective people management system, you increase the chances of retaining valuable employees

Employee engagement

One role of a people manager is empowering employees. This can be via feedback, goal-setting and career development, or workflow management. 

This empowerment is a powerful engagement tool as employees who feel reasonably challenged within their roles are likely to be more engaged in their work.

Additionally, employee engagement through empowerment builds trust. A manager who dedicates time and energy to supporting an employee's growth is often the kind of manager people trust.


Organizational effectiveness

When employees are clear on their role within the organization and team, feel their contributions are seen, heard, valued, and feel personally advocated for, they will bring their best to work. 

By improving employee performance, you increase the chances of meeting the team's objectives within the broader company mission. All while hopefully, while having some fun along the way!


Key people management skills

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication
  3. Active listening
  4. Creativity
  5. Organizational aptitude

1. Empathy 

As with many people-centric roles, people management takes empathy. Whether it's providing feedback or delegating tasks, empathy helps people managers understand where another person is coming from. By standing in their shoes and seeing things from their point of view, you can better understand what drives and challenges another person.

2. Communication

Communication is key to succeeding in many roles, and people management is no different. Successful people managers can communicate clearly with their coworkers in various circumstances. They balance candor with politeness to get their message across to many people.

3. Active listening

It's essential to listen to employees and coworkers. When active listening, people managers listen to the whole person. Before responding, they note what the other person says verbally, along with any physical cues that might otherwise go unnoticed.

4. Creativity

Every person is slightly different. Each employee has different needs and drivers. Discovering these differences is one thing, and acting upon this information is quite another. It takes creative thinking to solve people problems. So having out-of-the-box problem-solving strategies can be an asset in people management.

5. Organizational aptitude

People management involves a lot of people and moving parts. It takes an organized individual to develop and manage company-wide and team-wide processes. Simple practices that use people's time efficiently have a considerable impact. Creating an agenda for meetings, promptly following up on communications, and leveraging project management tools can be highly effective. 

Tips for effective people management

1. Know the Systems

Know your systems and how they interrelate. The organization has a mission, and each team has an objective to fulfill in service of that overall mission. How does the work of each team interplay to achieve that overall career goal? On your team, what is the established system? Is it effective in meeting the stated objectives? What are the various roles that make up the team, and how do they work together? What are the responsibilities of each role? Why do they matter?

2. Identify the “Why”

In the book Start with the Why, Simon Sinek explains that leaders inspire and motivate others by knowing the "why" of themselves, the organization, and their direct reports. Learn about the individuals on your team beyond their current roles.

How is this role in service of their career or life goals? What energizes them, and what depletes them? Where do they see themselves in five years? What matters to them most, and why? By learning about the individuals on your team, you will better understand what motivates each person.

3. Create a Strategic Plan

You have been charged with leading the objective of your team forward. What key markers will show that you and your team have accomplished the goals laid out by leadership? What indicators or information will you look for to validate your assumptions or course-correct once work is underway? What obstacles could prevent success, and how will you get ahead of them?

Your job is not just to communicate and implement this plan with your team and colleagues but to manage it to a productive end, even if the plan needs to change.

4. Hire Right

If you have the opportunity to hire anew, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your current team. 

What skillset would fill in the current team's gaps and suit the role that needs to be filled? 

Consider your internal candidates, including current team members who have expressed interest in taking on that role. But then cast the opportunity out wide and discover diverse applicants with necessary credentials. Consider how your team might benefit from the greater diversity of perspectives. Don't just hire from a pool of people you know. Broaden the search.  

5. Ensure Equity

Keep an eye on fairness in pay and expectation with new hires and all employees entrusted to you. Is there a pay disparity potentially based on gender, race, or other? Work to address it and to create a fair, inclusive, and equitable team. Remember, you are in a place of power and set the stage for your team. 

6. Set Expectations

Clearly state and communicate the expectations of each role and the individual who will fulfill that role. What are the expected deliverables, and by what date and time? Who delivers what, and who acts as the backup? Co-create the rules and expectations for increased ownership.  

7. Co-create Accountability

With expectations clearly stated and communicated, each individual is held accountable. If the expectations are co-created, keeping the individual accountable falls not only on you but also on the team as a whole. 

8. Use a Strengths-based Approach

By using a strengths-based approach, individuals will respond in kind with a positive growth mindset. First, acknowledge the person's strengths. What went well? Then address the areas that could use improvement. Perhaps consider how another team member's strengths could bolster the growth required by the individual by working together.


9. Establish Regular Communication

Schedule meetings with the team as a whole and individually on a regular basis. This will build a sense of open communication and foster trust. Rather than having issues and frustration build until they are bursting at the seams, they will be addressed within the forum created for open communication throughout the year. As a manager, you will check in on the team's performance and keep a pulse on how initiatives are moving forward or not. Issues can then be more quickly identified and addressed. 

10. Set a Clear Agenda

No one has time to waste or the desire to sit in front of another Zoom meeting. Have a clear agenda with an adhered-to timeline so that team members understand that their time is valued.  

11. Build Psychological Safety

Create an environment in which people feel safe to share their accomplishments and failures. Create an environment that welcomes dumb ideas as well as brilliant ideas. Everyone knows, sometimes those dumb ideas end up being the brilliant ones. Value the diverse perspectives of each individual and give them the space to be heard and considered. By creating a safe space, where people are not criticized, ideas will be generated, problems solved, and innovations made. In an environment that is not safe, you will hear the sound of crickets. 

12. Check your Ego

You were chosen to be the manager because of your knowledge and, most likely, your interpersonal skills. When communicating with your team, be okay with letting go of the belief that no one else knows as much as you, nor will they be able to deliver the high quality that you demand. Be aware of that voice trying to burst through and keep it in check as you practice numbers 13-15. 

13. Practice Active Listening In All Interactions

Set aside your judgment about what you think the person is about to say. Be present and listen to what the person is actually saying at the moment. Reflect and summarize what you have heard. Why does this matter? The individual will feel heard, acknowledged, and valued by you.

14. Develop Empathy

Consider the perspective of the other person and relate to the human emotions being expressed. Remember that the professional role is only one part of the individual.

15. Ask Open-ended Questions

Ask questions that result in more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead of asking, do you agree with the solution (yes/no), ask, what do you propose? How would you handle the situation? (Avoid using the word why, as it can come across as blaming.)

The open-ended questions will take more time initially, especially if you are sure that you have the right answer. However, over time, as the members feel empowered to find the answers for themselves, your time will be freed to consider higher-level strategic planning.

16. Be an Advocate

Advocate for your team as a whole and for the individuals that are a part of it. Take the team’s feedback and consider if expectations and working practices within the group and with other teams need to be better communicated and/or adjusted. If additional resources are required to better fulfill the team‘s objective, make the case to the higher-ups so that it is seen as a win-win for all. 

17. Share Opportunities to Grow

Share the resources, professional development opportunities, classes, coaching, and organizations to be involved in. With continued learning, there is a greater possibility and satisfaction.  

18. Celebrate the Wins

Acknowledge a job well done, deadlines met, progress made. Celebrate the wins.

19. Have the Difficult and Direct Conversations

Nothing is more frustrating or toxic than when an obvious problem is left unaddressed. The structure and expectations set in place should ease the process and act as a North Star, guiding the conversation. 

20. Trust your People

Trust the people and give them the space they need to get it done in their own way. The systems are clarified. The expectations are set. Offer the flexibility to get the job done in the best way they see fit. A bike ride for lunch may be needed to get the creative juices flowing or blow off steam before the person is ready to go at it again. 

21. Welcome Feedback

Welcome all feedback. It is the only way to grow and to see what you are not seeing.

22. Lead by Example

Model the behavior that you want to see in members of your team. Model the boundaries that are necessary for all to flourish. Take a break to recharge. No one benefits from 24/7 work. Your team will follow your lead.  

23. Be a Mentor

Share the wisdom of your professional life journey and help launch your employees to their next level of development and opportunity.  


Ready to take your leaders to the next level? Try a demo of BetterUp.

How to develop your people management skills

1. Learn more about your own emotional intelligence

How aware and in control of your emotions are you, and how do you use those emotions to navigate interpersonal relationships?

2. Take a coaching-for-leadership class

A coaching-for-leadership class can help you learn and practice active listening skills and how to ask powerful, open-ended questions. 

Alternately, you can practice on your own. The next time you find yourself looking at a colleague, knowing the question and the answer, stop and ask, “what else?” 

Listen to what the person has to say.

3. Be clear about what matters to you most and why

What values matter to you, and what is your vision of a life well-lived? Are your goals in line with your values and vision? With that clarity, you can better lead yourself and others.

4. Encourage your team to build solutions together 

Present your ideas and ask the group to co-create the best possible solutions together.  

5. Delegate 

Trust that the person hired can rise to your expectations and beyond. By giving tasks to others, you help them grow and develop new confidence and also free your own time for stretch and strategic tasks of your own. Delegating allows you the opportunity to grow beyond the direct contributor and executor role

6. Do a 360 assessment

Get collective feedback from your boss, your peers, and direct reports. What are your strengths? What are the areas that you could improve? What is one word a person would use to describe you? Growth comes from consistent feedback and the desire to improve oneself. 

7. Take time to recharge and expect that of your team

You need to know when enough is enough. Make time for some R&R, take a vacation, and make sure your team is doing that as well.

Improve your people management

By following the tips above, you'll be able to improve as a manager or leader by developing the management skills that facilitate a people-first approach. This will foster a more robust workforce that will rally behind you for the betterment of the business as a whole and everyone involved in it. 

If you’re looking for more guidance to improve your people management system or skills, BetterUp can help. Reach out to see how we can support you and your team’s growth.

Published March 15, 2022

Read Next

Professional Development
5 min read | September 2, 2019

Solving the Leadership Development Dilemma

Organizations today face a common challenge: they are struggling to develop leaders of tomorrow. Read More
18 min read | February 12, 2021

Empathetic leadership: Are empathetic leaders born or made?

Let’s take a look at the important role empathy plays in organizations and how you can become an empathetic leader. Read More
Employee Experience
5 min read | September 2, 2019

The path to individual transformation in the workplace: part one

American corporations today spend an estimated $160B annually on learning and development initiatives aimed at transforming their organizations. Yet research shows that... Read More
6 min read | September 2, 2019

3 research-backed ways to build trust

Trust is the foundation of any successful organization. When team members feel trusted, they’re better empowered to do their best work. Read More
Leadership & Management
11 min read | March 23, 2022

Leader vs. manager: what's the difference?

Leadership and management are often intertwined concepts, especially in recent years as the roles have become more blurry through organizational life. Read More
Research & Insights
17 min read | January 24, 2022

When the new normal is a no-show: Why future-mindedness is the mindset organizations need now

For organizations, the inability to plan in the face of uncertainty is affecting their leaders, employees, and customers. BetterUp's research reveals a key future-oriented... Read More
Leadership & Management
8 min read | August 25, 2022

5 benefits of feedback — and why it matters

Feedback doesn't have to be scary. Learn about the benefits of feedback for your employees and your organization. Read More
Professional Development
19 min read | November 18, 2022

4 reasons why you can't afford to skip out on succession planning

Future-proof your organization with these 5 effective succession planning tactics. Read More
Leadership & Management
16 min read | November 21, 2022

6 tactics to unlock operational excellence and drive performance

Improving an organization’s operational excellence can help teams and companies be more resilient. Here are 6 steps to strengthen your team performance. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.