5 Actions A People Manager Can Take

Growing in the New World | Part 2 | 5 Actions A People Manager Can Take

With businesses having to rapidly innovate and adapt to stay in step with the changing world, success will come down to the competence and mindset of its talent. People closest to the problem have long held the answer and it is the teams operating on the front line who will bring effective change. If the team members are the foot soldiers in the battle, it is the people manager who holds the key to unlock their potential. The people manager’s role is not easy at the best of times. Now more than ever, there is an opportunity for you as a people manager to steer your team to success. We propose five steps that you can take to help your team grow and develop as you collectively navigate choppy waters.

Making (on-line) training stick

Most of the traditional classroom training is moving online and team members can now expect to attend virtual classes and webinars to pick up knowledge and skills. On-line certifications and courses are gaining rapid traction. However, virtual learning is far from being a silver bullet guaranteed to make training successful. The people manager can play a significant role and ensure that the participant learns from such training and transfers it to the workplace.

One of the first tasks you can help your team member with is to precisely identify their learning needs and help them choose courses and sessions they can most benefit from. The learning objectives should be such that they are closely tied with their current job or with their immediate future aspirations. Having a clear understanding of the areas where the learnings will be applied will help the team member make the most of the learning. Immediately after the session, encourage the team member to enumerate and explain their takeaways to you and the team. Be their mentor as they apply their insights and build on them on the job. Note that these tactics are good for any kind of formal training program – virtual or in-person – and will ensure richer returns on training through better transfer.

Engineering cross-team water cooler conversations

Most learning takes places outside a classroom – virtual or otherwise. One grows while learning on the job and through exchanging ideas and thoughts with co-workers. With interactions moving on-line, such spontaneous water cooler conversations will cease and colleagues, especially across teams, will no longer be able to meet informally and develop working relationships and learn from each other. This is where your role comes in and the proactive steps you can take to increase cross-team interactions and collaboration.

These can be as easy as inviting colleagues from other teams to be part of your team meetings. The agenda for such exchange can range from discussing what is the latest and best being developed in another team, to having them critique a project or process that your team is working on. The simplest means to work out the agenda for such exchanges is to solicit inputs from your team; what will be of interest to them? What will help the team grow and be more productive? What will spark new ideas? To encourage collaborative learning, initiate cross-team task forces and nominate your team members to be part of such exercises. For your team members to engage with other teams and departments, remember that you need to role model such behavior and are visibly seen as being up to date with cross-team projects/learnings, and as someone who effectively leverages them for impact.

Providing food for thought and fodder for new ideas

Growth needs external stimuli and triggers; it needs to be nurtured through fresh perspectives. Especially when working remotely, it is easy to get caught up in the web of one’s own work and become overly focused on a narrow range of tasks. As a people manager, now more than ever, you need to up the ante on bringing fodder for new ideas to the team.

Share and have your team members share interesting and relevant podcasts, white papers, blog posts, book summaries and videos. These need to be judiciously chosen – and be accompanied by insights and how these can be applied to the team’s work. Help your team stay up to date with happenings in the industry through inviting leaders and managers from your network to address them. These ideas are low budget, are easy to implement in a remote working environment and can have big impact. You could set aside a learning hour every fortnight for such activities and idea-shares and encourage colleagues to lead such initiatives.

Building a growth mindset

Periods of uncertainty can be a double-edged sword. While the nature and amount of change can be overwhelming, they can also be opportunities for growth and new learnings. In an environment of job insecurity, furloughs and pay cuts, team members are likely to feel anxious and worried about their future. The people manager’s job becomes even more difficult – to not only help their teamwork through their anxiety but also to keep them engaged and encourage them to invest in their growth and upskilling.

Our recommendation for the people manager is three-fold – be authentic, keep the teams focused on the larger goal and keep the conversation going. Be honest in your communication, acknowledge the uncertainties and the anxieties but invite the team to not dwell on these. Instead, focus on opportunities for growth and talk about the potential that can be unlocked at an individual and a team level. Invest in your team through dialogue and conversations – these will not only build up your emotional bank account with them, but it will also assure them that you have their back. Anchoring the conversations to the team objectives inspires the team to work towards a common goal and hold the bar high for themselves and their colleagues.

Making progress one conversation at a time

One size seldom fits all. The same is the case when it comes to team engagement and growth. A savvy people manager can adopt a portfolio management approach when it comes to developing their team members to tailor the approach and apply the steps outlined above in a sharper manner.

Begin by assessing how engaged each of your team members is and how invested they are in their own growth and development. Those who are highly engaged but would prefer to maintain the status quo can benefit from coaching conversations targeted to re-frame their professional aspirations. The ones who are committed to their own growth but are not engaged, are likely finding the uncertainty overwhelming and may soon slip to being disengaged and demotivated. Both these categories need special attention; help them uncover the mental models or scripts which are binding them to a fixed mindset. Coach them to rewrite their inner dialogue. Listen for cues that indicate particularly poor well-being and refer such team members to seek additional help. There is a fourth category, those who are highly engaged and committed to own and team growth. Don’t forget to continue investing in such individuals in 1:1 conversations and through nudges to grow and progress.

To end, we recommend that people managers see their role being similar to one of a sports coach, constantly encouraging and facilitating their team to perform better and hone their skills, more so when the odds are stacked against the team and agility and focus become the need of the hour.

Author: Ekta Poddar