Sarah McLellan, senior director at SHL, delves into how technology transforms people management. Discover the tools shaping empathetic leadership, enabling managers to navigate complexities effectively.
Being a people manager is a tough gig. Often stuck in the middle, managers must answer directives from leaders and respond to demands and issues bubbling up. A manager must effectively navigate a path to deliver results, motivate a diverse team, lead change, and ultimately bring work and careers to life.
Leaders and organizations can underestimate the value a great people manager brings to businesses, and views of what good management looks and feels like are often outdated – stuck in a bygone era.
In an increasingly dispersed, complex, and ambiguous working world, great managers with well-placed tools, technology, and support could hold the key to making work better for us all.
The Value of Managers
Companies removing layers of management have felt the pain of doing so. Remote, distributed teams try to make sense of constant and confusing information, new priorities, and challenges coming at them daily. Our collective experiences in the pandemic, unique and similar simultaneously, flung our working lives into perspective. Businesses and people went into the survival model. Fortunately, many businesses have made significant progress in digitizing work and digitalizing operations. They were well-prepared for enforced remote working – but the major shift no one was ready for was the intense mixing of work and home lives and the constant emergence of unique problems and scenarios to solve. Getting the best from an employee now involves a deep understanding of them, their needs and dependencies, and skill in personalizing approaches to create durable solutions for people and companies.
Today, unhappiness among workers has spiked, and burnout has escalatedOpens a new window . The great resignation and quiet quitting emphasized that individuals are prepared to seek more meaningful work and balance. And despite being more technologically connected than ever, fewer people feel socially connected to their workplaces and employers.
A common thread is the importance of managers. Research Opens a new window consistently shows that a great manager can make a tangible difference, offering improved engagement and retention, stronger performance, and enhanced well-being. To optimize this, we must purposefully design and re-position management roles for success in today’s work environment.
Skills For Success
In our new world of work, people managers can be the catalyst for change if we let them.
It starts with recognizing the skills for management success have changed, and therefore, the people we typically look to take on these roles might need to be different. Great managers today build human cultures based on two-way conversations, understanding, and trust. They personalize work, making it meaningful for individuals, and coach behaviors to enable sustainable performance. They manage the now but still focus on the future, adapting their style to optimize impact and developing new skills and capabilities to ensure long-term value creation.
We’re far from the expert-led manager who supervises tasks, reviews performance, and controls communications and careers. This is a new manager profile – deeply motivated by understanding people, energized through building solid relationships, and relishes facilitating connections and tackling change. They lead with empathy and act with compassion. They have high standards, role-model them, and are not afraid to share constructive and honest feedback with others. This new breed of managers upholds fairness and are committed to building diverse and inclusive teams. They translate company vision and strategy into tangible and motivating work, working in an agile and adaptable way as strategy and context evolve.
It isn’t easy to do this well. Many companies haven’t yet updated their manager recipe and are recruiting and promoting people with the wrong skills and expectations. As a result, those with the potential to succeed are overlooked, and teams are left flailing, feeling overwhelmed and de-motivated. Companies often fail to recognize and celebrate management as a skill and simply tack management responsibilities onto existing roles, resulting in managers feeling undervalued and burned out.
Technology to Enable Human-focused Management
In addition to updating talent processes to enable the best people managers to thrive, technology, in the right place, can advance our continued transformation and unleash the potential of great managers.
Tools and systems that reduce complexity – identifying aligned or conflicting information as updates flood in on key topics (across multiple platforms!), could help this already over-burdened group. A growing number of companies are exploring the potential of in-house designed equivalents to ChatGPT to assist employees in finding information, accessing guidance, and expertise in the flow of work. For managers, this can include quickly retrieving HR policies or employee records across multiple platforms and accessing advice and models for critical moments, such as running effective meetings and sharing constructive feedback.
For companies considering this, targeting well-designed and maintained applications for management populations and tailoring content and scenarios covered could offer a good return on investment as their actions and decisions ripple across the organization.
Applications enriched with AI already help workers learn about their performance and improvements. For example, sales call analytics collates essential insights into an individual’s sales conversation conversions, response rates, call durations, and revenue rates. In contrast, other virtual call technology can provide feedback on communication, presentation style, and language. Managers can use these insights to coach individuals on performance improvements and identify themes, issues, and timely interventions.
There are certainly opportunities for immersive technology to support managers further, too.
The transition from being an individual contributor to managing a team is significant. While many share aspirations to step up and manage, this is rarely matched with a realistic understanding of what’s involved. Virtual reality (VR) and digital simulations could offer enhanced understanding and preparation for the people manager role. Whether communicating salary change information (and managing the questions and emotional reactions), delivering constructive feedback to coach an employee’s performance, or facilitating a new relationship with a key stakeholder (who perhaps doesn’t share the same goals or motivations to partner), virtual scenarios and role play could offer new and emerging managers a safe space to practice and receive feedback on their style and impact.
Although simulation technology can be offered at scale in organizations, the challenge will often be managers carving out the time to engage and use it. Organizations will need to make its use a priority. For the new generation of managers, it would ensure they are equipped and ready to make a strong start. However, managers will continue to need online forums and safe spaces to access real-time support from manager peers. Exchanging experiences, support, advice, and tools help managers learn and grow in these demanding and often lonely people-focused roles.
Technology must help managers focus their time on their people as they navigate unknown and complex scenarios. It should be used to build trust, create understanding, and demonstrate empathy – drawing on our uniquely human traits to bring work to life sustainably and meaningfully.