HR Headaches Series: Does Your Company Have Managers With No People Skills?

In this week’s HR Headaches post, we discuss how to help company leaders who are unable to manage their people.

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If you have managers with more technical abilities than soft skill abilities, read this guide

You’ve got a manager who is an expert in their field, but when it comes to managing their team, they seem to struggle. Does this sound familiar to you? This is a common scenario that happens when individual contributors, who are amazing at their job, get a promotion to management based on their subject matter expertise.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, what got you here, won’t always get you there. Managers with very technical expertise might be great at their jobs, but that doesn’t always mean they have the skills to manage their team. In this article, we will talk about the secret weapon of soft skill development as it relates to how well managers can manage their employees.

Soft skills: Your secret management weapon

The problem many HR professionals face is that many of their employees place less of an emphasis on their soft skill abilities as they do their technical abilities. In a popular study, titled Project Oxygen by Google, research uncovered that the top skills that employees valued in their managers often consisted of soft skills more than technical ability. These skills include things like “my manager is a good coach, empowers the team and supports career development.” Of the 10 key indicators of strong management, only one skill in this study touched upon technical ability.

In a popular study, titled Project Oxygen by Google, research uncovered that the top skills that employees valued in their managers often consisted of soft skills more than technical ability.
So, it’s no wonder when managers who get a promotion based on their technical expertise struggle to manage their team! If you find yourself in this position, with a manager who seems unable to manage their people, here are a few ways to proceed.

First, have an open conversation with them

Before taking any action, it’s important to have a conversation with this manager to get a clear understanding of the situation from their perspective. Go in with an open and unbiased mind, and simply schedule a chat to see how things are going with them. Seek first to understand. In this chat, be sure to cover the following topics:

  • Expectations: Oftentimes, instructions, tasks, and expectations can get lost in translation. It’s possible that the individual you are working with simply did not know they were meant to do certain things. This is a great time to reinforce any expectations that may be unclear.
  • Support needed: If the manager is not fulfilling their duties in managing their team, it may be because they don’t have the right support, whether that be tools, training, or the right people on their team. Find out any roadblocks they might be facing and see how you can support them. Find out what kind of pressure they might be under from their manager.
  • Their motivation: Try and get a sense for what motivates and drives them. What inspired them to take on this manager role, where do they see themselves in their career, and what gets them excited to come to work? It’s possible that they might just not be in the right job, or, they may just need to be motivated in different ways.

Once you understand the situation from their perspective, you can act accordingly.

Provide training and mentorship

Lack of skill development and mentorship can be a huge contributing factor for why certain managers don’t excel in their job. This is especially true if the skills which got them promoted were very technical in nature, as most coveted management skills are soft skills by nature.

Consider finding this manager a mentor who they can lean on regularly for motivation, advice, and learning. If you don’t have an in-house management training program, consider finding an external vendor to support your managers.
Consider finding this manager a mentor who they can lean on regularly for motivation, advice, and learning. If you don’t have an in-house management training program, consider finding an external vendor to support your managers. You can also help them by providing a professional leadership coach to work with if you have the financial means to do so.

Create incentives

When possible, create incentives that tie into management performance. This can be in the form of bonuses, or yearly salary increases. It is important that managing the people side of the team and demonstrating leadership clearly ties into the manager role from an incentives perspective.

Consider your reporting and promotion structure

There is something to learn from every situation. If you’re noticing this as a common occurrence, then it’s possible you may need to re-evaluate how you promote people. This would mean developing a strong competency framework around what it means to be a manager at your company, and ensuring that people are promoted or hired based on those competencies.

If all this fails, and your managers are still struggling, it’s possible that they may need to return to their individual contributor role. This is where understanding your employees skill set and motivation can help you place them in the proper position. It is also possible that the organization is just no longer the right fit for this particular employee and it may be time to part ways.

These are just a few suggestions to help you with managers who struggle to manage their teams! What have you done in the past? Let us know!

Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “Setting up Managers for Success in a Remote-Friendly Future.”

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