This is a recording of a webinar from November 2022 from DISRUPTIVE LEADERS.

We look at what it takes to be a leader in today’s disrupted world, share our unique EACH framework (Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings), and give you lots of practical ideas and tips to help you increase productivity, engagement and innovation in your team.

DISRUPTIVE LEADERS is a live online platform giving people managers a wide range of practical tools to help them lead their teams brilliantly! 

It works perfectly with the DISRUPTIVE HR CLUB

DISRUPTIVE LEADERS content is: 

Content is updated weekly with NEW toolkits, videos and tips, plus a rolling schedule of live training webinars.

What can we do about poor managers?

If I could sum up THE key issue that every HR person seems to have, it would be these three words; ‘poor people managers’.

Almost everything we do stems from this. Such as:

We have created an industry that is designed to compensate for poor people managers. I don’t believe that we chose the HR profession to play nursemaid or compliance officer. But that’s where most of us tend to end up! And whilst we’re trying desperately to prop up our managers, we’re not focusing our efforts and talents on the things that would actually make the difference. Instead of compensating, we should be creating the conditions where our people can be more agile, more innovative and more productive. We want to spend our time creating an amazing and differentiated employee experience – not collecting in appraisal forms or writing a policy for home working because our managers can’t cope with having a grown-up conversation with their team!

So, what’s the answer? Well, the simple and unhelpful one would be – don’t hire managers who don’t want to manage people! But we know that for years we have been promoting people into line manager roles who really only wanted the increase in pay or status, or who were the best technically or who saw line management as the only progression route available. So, whether we like it or not, we’re stuck with them! So, here are some options that you might want to consider.

Find out why they are bad at it

Not every poor manager has the same barrier to being better. So, we need a mix of tactics to cater for these differences. Our typical approach of designing around the lowest common denominator risks missing what makes individual managers tick and what might help them get better. Yes, there will be those who just aren’t interested – more about them later. But there will also be those who are unclear about what they need to do, or those who lack confidence or those who want to do the right thing but who are highly introverted and struggle with the idea of conversations. Try using the ‘persona’ tactic that we can borrow from Marketing where you analyse your line manager population and identify a small number of line manager persona – or types – based on their motivations and challenges around people management. Then work out your approaches and support packages.

Focus on the outcomes you want from them – not the process

We are so keen to have them do the right thing by their people that we tend to provide them with detailed processes to follow – performance reviews, bonus allocation, 9 box grid completion and so on. But we end up providing one size fits all approaches and often overlook the actual quality of the outcomes. Consider identifying the outcomes you want from them instead. What would good people management look like for you? SAP identified three very simple outputs for their managers:

  1. Coach your team
  2. Show appreciation and
  3. Lead with trust

They didn’t say HOW they were to deliver these outcomes. They allowed managers to do it in ways that worked for them and their personality. But they also measured it through regular pulse surveys. Holding people managers accountable is often missing. We measure and publish their financial and operational results don’t we? So, why not their people results?

Support with stuff that works

I’m not saying we should eliminate our leadership development programmes entirely, but given the amount we spend on them, we really ought to have seen better results by now! Consider alternative support resources that work with their busy schedules but that are also proven to have a bigger impact – such as using nudges or peer to peer support, or short and sweet interventions such as O2’s learning shots – 3 minute videos that give managers something practical to try. You might want to check out our Conversations Toolkit which gives managers a simple set of tips and conversation starters to use.

Stop compensating

Finally – and this can be really hard for us – make a decision to stop compensating for poor people managers. I know that this might feel like giving up our life’s work – but, trust me, once you make this shift, it can free you up to be much more impactful.

In practice, this looks like:

  1. Focusing our energies on the ones that are a bit more curious and open to doing things better. Like at Standard Chartered where they have reinvested their development budget into ’emerging’ rather than senior leaders. They’ve recognised that working with the ones who are open to doing things differently has a much bigger impact than trying to get leaders of 20-30 years to change.
  2. Dropping processes that try and force managers to do things that they end up doing badly – like the end of year review. We can’t feel proud that we’ve got 95% completion rate when the quality is so poor. Better that we focus on the smaller changes they might introduce – like at Atlassian where managers are asked to cover a couple of questions with their team such as ‘what are you working on and how can I help?’
  3. And finally, let’s stop diluting, delaying and compromising on our plans to change HR to keep our poorest and often our noisiest people managers on board. Try telling them that ‘they’re not ready for this new approach’ and that ‘we’re going to work with the ones who are’. This at least reduces their objections and enables us to make change happen – and often, this actually makes them WANT to take part.

I’m not sure who first thought of the idea of an HR function. But whoever it was, I’m sure they never imagined us spending our valuable talents and energies on propping up poor managers. If we focus instead on targeted strategies, holding them accountable for clear outcomes and a creative mix of support, we will create far more value for our organisations.

If you want to help your people managers do it better, then check out Disruptive Leaders. Disruptive Leaders is a live platform that gives your people managers the tips, tools and insights they need to manage people brilliantly!

We keep saying that the world around us has changed – so what skills and mindsets do leaders need to have now to be successful in this disrupted world? Watch our short animation to find out.

If you would like to share this animation, here’s a YouTube version.

When we in HR want to achieve a change in behaviour, we tend to resort to a training programme as the way to help deliver it. I’ve done it countless times … Let’s say we wanted to deliver a change in leadership behaviour? I’d put on a day’s training around the skills required. This would usually involve designing the programme, finding an expert to deliver the content, co-ordinating peoples’ diaries and then counting the ‘no-shows’ on the day. I’d probably even throw in a bit of ‘making it mandatory’ just to make sure I’d got to everyone.

Now there are clearly some issues with this. Aside from the time it takes to get the training put on and the time taken from busy people, we know that the human brain will forget 80% of what’s it learned on the programme within 30 days – not because the attendees are stupid, but just because that’s how the human brain works.

We also know that if the people who’ve been trained don’t put their new skill into practice soon after, and don’t have the opportunity to practice it over a few weeks, it’s unlikely to stick.

An alternative you can use to influence behaviour is to use so-called ‘nudges’. Now in the purest sense, a nudge is about influencing the choices people make at the point where they are about to make them, as opposed to trying to push people into doing things using threats or regulations. One of the most famous examples of an effective nudge was used in the men’s urinals at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Instead of exhorting users to aim into the urinal properly, they etched an image of a housefly onto the urinals in the area they wanted them to aim! Very simple and very effective.

We can use these nudges in HR to help influence the behaviour of our leaders and employees too – by subtlety encouraging a different choice of behaviour at the point when a choice is being made.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Nudges are being used a lot in approaches to Diversity and Inclusion. At Pinterest, they simply suggested that hiring managers be more aware of the amount of hires they were making from under-represented groups. Just this simple prompt or nudge just before they went into interviewing led to a more diverse group of hires.

There’s also the example from the Chief Fire Officer for East Sussex Fire Service – a woman called Dawn Whittaker. When one of her female team passes an exam or does something notable, she sends a congratulations email with a little drawing of a fire chief’s helmet in it! It’s just a nudge to subliminally tell her female staff that they are good enough to think about the top job.

Boston Consulting Group uses nudges to help prevent burn out amongst their staff. They created a macro in the company email application that causes a pop-up window to appear whenever leaders attempt to send a message after hours. The nudge appears at the exact moment leaders need a reminder that the action they’re taking may be putting extra stress onto their teams who might think they should reply to the email immediately, even though it’s late. It doesn’t block their ability to send the message. It simply offers the choice of marking as low priority or deferring the email to the next day.

And finally, Google, who use this nudge technique – or ‘Whispers’ as they call them – to help influence behaviours. They send Whisper emails to managers suggesting one small leadership skill they might want to practice – and they also send an automated nudge email to hiring managers on the Sunday night before their new hire starts. Because let’s be honest, the Sunday before they start is typically when managers actually think about what they’re going to do during onboarding! The email prompts them to introduce them to a buddy and to get a few 1-2-1’s booked in.

So instead of a laborious and costly training programme, maybe you could think about introducing nudges to help you change behaviours.  

If our organisations and our teams are going to survive and thrive in this new, disrupted world then we need a fundamentally new way of relating to our people. This video explores how leaders can do things differently using the EACH model – Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings. 

Right now, management teams all over the world are debating what they should do with the future workplace. Some, like DropBox are getting rid of offices for individual working completely. At the other end of the spectrum, some, like Goldman Sachs, seem to be denying that the last 18 months even happened and are urging everyone to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Most leaders though are taking a more progressive and rational approach and opting for a hybrid workplace. Whether that’s a 2/3 day split like at BP or even better – like O2, Mondelez, Standard Chartered – allowing for personal choice about where we want to work.

But what does this mean for managers who are trying to get the work done, keep customers and team members happy and still provide this level of individual choice? How can you make the future workplace – work?!

Got to work for all

As managers trying to juggle different – and sometimes conflicting needs and wants within a team – and still deliver – it’s tempting to look for some rule or policy that we can use to give us the answer. But the smarter leaders know that a prescriptive policy is NEVER going to cater for every possible situation. The best and really the ONLY way to resolve conflicting needs and wants is to talk it through as a team. If you treat people like grown-ups and share the dilemma – you can work through it together – through conversations. True, not everyone may get everything they want, but you’re treating them like adults and it’s more likely to be resolved amicably without applying a big one-size-fits-all approach.

Level the playing field

If you’re really going to make the future ways of working happen effectively, then it’s worth thinking about how you can create the same experience for your people, regardless of where they are based. It’s well-known that human beings tend to show bias towards the people we see more regularly and that remote workers can feel less valued as a result. One way of levelling the playing field is the approach that the company Coinbase take where they commit to there being no explicit or implicit disadvantages to working from any location and conduct all team meetings as if everyone were working remotely – including colleagues in the office who connect from their desks. Or have a think about how you reward and recognise your people and make sure that the celebrations aren’t always office based.

Retaining your culture

Managers I meet are worrying about how they can continue to retain their culture if more of their team aren’t in the office regularly – and I think this is a valid concern. What we see companies doing is being really clear on the key interactions with your team members that are best done face to face? – the so-called ‘moments that matter’

Managers at ABN Amro have identified 4 key moments that matter – being recruited, being inducted onboarded, dealing with difficult times and building social relationships. Once you’ve identified the key moments for your people that are best done face to face, then you can co-ordinate the team being together. Maybe have a think about the moments that matter in your area? Or better still, discuss and agree them with your team. Agreeing on the types of activity that play best remotely or face to face, rather than how many days a week tends to be more productive.

Leader’s checklist

And what about you as a leader? How might you need to work differently? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to hopefully help you move to a more hybrid workplace

  1. Are my meetings always about ‘tasks’ or do I create opportunities for social interaction?
  2. Am I having enough quick check-ins and chats about career development?
  3. Am I celebrating enough as a team? How am I recognising individual team members?
  4. Am I using a range of tools such as WhatsApp or Slack to keep conversations going outside of meetings?
  5. Do I Work From Anywhere – or am I always in the office? If leaders don’t actively work away from the office then it will be seen as something that in reality is frowned upon.

But more than anything, leaders can make this work by not seeing and framing Working from home as an indulgence. If we continue to imply ‘BUT, THE REAL WORK HAPPENS IN THE OFFICE!’ we’ll be back to packed commuter trains and cubicle-working in no time at all. Offering greater choice about where and when your teams do their work is a fantastic opportunity to provide the flexibility and autonomy we crave whilst providing the social interaction and structure too.

Helping your team to feel good at work – and to cope with the stress that many of us are feeling right now – is less about telling them stuff or giving them things like Zoom yoga. If you genuinely want your team to know you care – then it is about asking the right questions.

The ‘right’ questions are the ones that show we are interested in

  1. Them – as a person – a human being – with mortgages, kids, parents, niggling ailments, broken washing machines – all of the stresses and strains of their lives outside of work
  2. Questions that show we are interested in whether they feel supported and empowered to do their best work – doing work that plays to their strengths – in ways that fit their personal style – with things that frustrate or waste their time – kept to a minimum
  3. Questions that show we care about their career – their aspirations – and things that will help them get there

In this video (just one of the regular 5 Minute Monday series for members of the Disruptive HR Club) we share three key questions that any people manager can use to make sure their team are not just coping – but thriving at work.

In this podcast, Lucy interviews Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia to learn more about how they have continued to lead with the heart throughout the pandemic.

Lucy interviews Aidan Geary, Director of Operations at Conde Nast. He talks about the challenges of running a global media brand during the crisis and some of the positives that have come from it.

Claire Camara and Clare Fogden from The Coop share how they are building leadership capability in new ways including focusing on the behaviours they need in the future, taking out tired processes and changing the ways leaders are chosen.