Managers managing people

How do you encourage managers to develop their people?

Very common problem

People are usually recruited into a firm initially for their technical or financial skills. As they grow in their jobs, more and more people management responsibilities are added to their work. Getting the best out of their people starts to determine the success of their department and the success of the manager too. However, some managers may not see the need to change and develop personally or may not know how to. They prefer to remain in their comfort zone as technical experts. This is a very common problem at all levels.

Some companies provide promotion opportunities for their very best technical people to stay in their technical roles through e g a “Scientific Ladder”. ICI did this.

What is the job of a manager?

The manager’s job is to get the business of the organisation to grow and prosper by working through other people. However clever or dedicated he/she is there is never enough time to do everything her/himself. If the manager attempts this, the best people working for the manager will leave and the manager is likely to fall ill with stress.

How can the organisation encourage more people management?

People in organisations are strongly motivated to do what they are rewarded for. Rewards are tangible formal things like pay, bonus, a nicer car. However, the more powerful positive intangible motivators are the interest, praise and attention that others give you when you go about your work. It helps if people are rewarded like this for encouraging their people and developing them as well as achieving the bottom line results. Some companies, including IBM, have set one of the criteria for judging management performance to be how effectively the manager develops his/her staff.

The habit of development

I did a study in a client company that showed that people became developmental if their first experience of being managed in the company was with a developmental manager. They acquired the habit of development through their own experience of being developed. Perhaps organisations should rethink their induction of staff to make those early weeks a developmental experience by mentoring and having induction courses much more experiential than they sometimes are. People could have an exercise to explore the organisation in pairs and find out the values or beliefs about what is important to do in the company to be successful.

This would grow the candidates and it could give the top management of the organisation much food for thought too. Outsiders often get very authentic information because they have no axe to grind.

You could also consider recruiting people for their ability and willingness to learn as well as their current skills. In this way you would have people with developmental attitudes and skills coming into the company with the habit of development in place already. You could design your interviewing or assessment centres to find people who can learn and enjoy helping others learn. 

What else could we do practically to help people want to develop?

Most people get interested in their own development by having a developmental experience that they value. Development will always feel a bit risky so it is important to keep the risk manageable or the person will freeze or get defensive. Most people are more at home one to one than in a group. If this is so, what are the ways to give people useful one to one developmental experiences?

The easiest but most expensive way is to organise external coaching, counselling or mentoring. These words describe a one to one developmental conversation that helps a person learn to be a better manager. A much cheaper option, though perhaps more difficult to organise, is to teach the people to coach etc each other. This “coconsulting” works well because the process itself builds trust and understanding between the participants. They simply take turns helping each other of (say) half an hour each way with a review to learn what works after each session.

Reviewing to learn is a useful component to add to all meetings you have at work. Simply ask what did we do that worked well? What can we do next time to make it even better? This simple process can help to establish a developmental culture in which development takes place naturally without being forced or a formal programme.

You will have managers who already develop their people well. These people can become models for others to follow. They may be able to tell you already how they do it. In this case you will have the material for a course or other developmental activity in your hands. Sometimes people are very good at something but don’t quite know how they do it. Listening carefully and asking the person how they do the things they think are important can help you develop those skills. There is an article about this on my website, see Profiling.


One of the simplest things we can do to help anyone develop is to catch them doing things right. If someone says and means, “That was a very clear and useful report, thank you”. You know you feel great for hours afterwards and want to do more to get more appreciation. You can start this straight away with your friends and colleagues; you don’t need anyone’s permission.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick