People Management: A Comprehensive Guide to 10 Key Competencies

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Human resources should be the experts on the people side of the business - people management. But people management is not just for the HR department. In today's article, we zoom in on people management; we give a definition, look at the '5 C's' and list ten of the most important people management competencies for 2021 and beyond. Let's get started!

What is People Management?

People management is the process of overseeing the training, development, motivation and day-to-day management of employees. Generally, managers are responsible for managing the people in their department, but depending on the structure of the company, other departments may assist.

For example, if you have a chief of staff, this person focuses on the people management aspect, while department heads focus on the work product. There is, of course, an overlap between these functions, and for good people management, the project and the people side of things have to work well.

The human resources department often acts as an expert in the field of people management. It can serve as a resource for managers and people who deal with employees as a whole. Therefore, learning and development are often key functions of the HR department. They work to develop succession plans and create job descriptions to help people succeed. Compensation also plays a crucial role in human resource management.

The 5 Cs of People Management

Human resource management can be summarised in five categories, all beginning with the letter C. By examining these ideas, you can learn the central concepts of human resource management.

Clarity. An essential part of management is giving people instructions. Clarity allows employees to understand exactly what they need to do and how to do it. It is not micromanagement, i.e. a manager who unnecessarily explains all the steps and stands back while the employee completes them. It is about giving clear and concise information so that the employee knows what the manager expects of them. This gives everyone a sense of security, knowing what they need to do.

Context. An often quoted phrase is "what you do for one, you do for all". While this makes sense in terms of fairness, it denies the real context necessary for good people management. What else is going on?
For example, an employee may have problems with punctuality. A supervisor with little people management skills would simply note each absence and then dismiss the employee when he or she reaches the policy limit. A leader with people management skills would approach the employee to see what is going on. It may be as simple as an employee getting up too late in the morning, or it may be a serious problem that the manager can help solve or find a solution for. For example, if an employee uses public transport and the bus connections have changed, the delay is beyond their control. It is probably useful to adjust the employee's official schedule by 15 minutes.
Context is also essential when conducting an investigation, for example in a grievance procedure. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and a fair investigation takes into account both the context of the situation and the content.

Consistency. In the parenting books, there is talk of setting schedules for children and dealing with the consequences. The same applies to managing people, but with older children.
When you explain that the priorities are A, B and C, and then ask why nobody has finished C yet, employees lose confidence in their manager. When you tell employees that if they get all their certifications, they will get a 2% pay rise, and that doesn't happen, you affect their commitment. Why should they work hard to achieve goals if the manager is not consistent?

Courage. In general, people managers earn more than individual contributors, and courage is one of those reasons. It can be difficult to sit down with an employee and tell them that they need to change. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to let someone know that their behaviour is inappropriate. Of course, there are those times when you need to have a hygiene discussion with an employee. All personnel managers dread these conversations.
You also have to decide who to promote, who to mark as "not meeting expectations", and sometimes dismiss an employee for poor performance. While it may seem nice to ignore employee faults and failures, a manager has a responsibility to the company and to other employees. Ignoring an employee who bullies and harasses other employees may be the easy way out, but it is not good management. It destroys the morale of the department and can ultimately damage the company. It is essential to have the courage to do the right thing.

Commitment. Good management does not happen overnight. It takes hard work and patience. You have to plan and prepare for the future and correct things when they go wrong. When you decide to take on a new project (or your boss gives you one) or hire a new employee, the completed project or fully trained employee does not appear overnight. There has to be a commitment to the process and to the people. Otherwise, there will be no effective people management.

Why good personnel management is important

People don't leave companies, they leave managers. Whether this is true depends on who is asking the question, but there is no doubt that managers play a key role in turnover. And it's not just the direct managers, but everyone involved in personnel management.

A human resources department that does not provide advice and guidance, training and advocacy is also a bad environment.

People want good leaders for their management. They want clarity, context, consistency, courage and commitment from their leaders. Without that, you will not get buy-in or commitment from employees. You may find that people will come to work and do the tasks assigned to them, but your turnover will be high and your productivity will be low.

If you are worried about the cost of training, developing employees or helping everyone set annual performance targets, remember that the cost of recruiting, hiring and training new employees will (massively) outweigh that cost.

Good managers make good companies. Strong employee support will pay off.

10 Key People Management Skills for 2021 and Beyond

In addition to the five C's of people management, the following skills are also needed by good people managers:

Performance management. By March 2020, everyone who could work from home has started to do so. It is unlikely that everyone will be back in the office by January 2021. This means that managers need to know how to judge an employee's work not by how long they are there, but by their results. This may be a change for some managers.
Planning. It may seem difficult to plan in this rapidly changing landscape (we recently wrote an article on how HR can prepare for 2021), but people management requires managers to plan for multiple contingencies. This will remain important in 2021.
Mentoring. Most employees want to progress in their careers and will appreciate a manager who takes the time to mentor them and help them succeed.
Problem solving. By 2020, companies have had to learn how to telecommute, reorganise shops, work with masks and comply with ever-changing government health regulations. This is an essential people management skill for the future. These rapid changes are not going to stop. Even in calmer times, problem solving is an essential human resource management skill. Not only do you have to solve problems on projects, but you also have to work with employees to find solutions.
Communication. This skill is always at the forefront of people management. Communicating essential information quickly and clearly to employees can make the difference between a supportive team and rebellion.
Giving feedback. Good people management requires managers to give feedback - positive and negative. If a manager allows an employee to make the same mistake over and over again, it can damage the company's image or turn other employees against you. If a manager ignores the successes of his or her employees, they will become bitter. Good people managers need to provide accurate, friendly and timely feedback.
Feedback - Receive. Feedback can come from their superiors, customers or direct reports. All of this information needs to be processed, and the manager determines what should or should not be changed. It can be difficult to sort out the competing voices, and doing the right thing sometimes means challenging a department head. This can take courage, but ultimately using feedback appropriately leads to better people management.
Creativity. You don't have to paint or play the piano to be creative. Creativity takes the form of problem solving, solution finding, new product development and feedback facilitation. Again, as we enter the second year of a global pandemic, good people managers will continue to find creative solutions to situations.

Understanding stakeholders. There is a balance between employees and projects and between management and customers. Employees need guidance from a manager on how to value each stakeholder. Sometimes the stakeholders of a project are not clear, which can lead a manager to wrongly focus on the completion of the project. This can put an employee at risk, which is poor people management.
Emotional intelligence. Everyone is in a state of prolonged stress and crisis, which is not going to go away. A human resource manager with emotional intelligence seeks to know when people are at their wits' end and to find ways of dealing with them. A person with good emotional intelligence also knows his or her own limitations and looks for his or her own shortcomings to correct them. Emotional intelligence is the key to effective collaboration in the workplace and will continue to be an essential skill as we move into 2021.


Good people management is essential for the engagement, retention and development of your employees. As HR is supposed to be the expert on the people side of the business, it plays an important role in providing advice, guidance and training to those who manage people on a day-to-day basis and, by extension, the success of the business.

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