The Biggest Flaws in People Management

6 min read

Recently I’ve been working with a group of senior leaders in an organisation that has inspired me over the past while by their commitment to doing the right thing by their people and authenticity in truly wanting to take the culture of their business to the next level.

I say commit truly because my experience of working in this arena has shown me that most organisations only say they care about their people.  It looks good for employer branding, which aides recruitment, it’s great PR – and don’t even start me on the world of best workplace awards where a well written entry, which you can literally pay external companies to write on your behalf, goes a long way; and let’s say awards bodies might be motivated to ‘shortlist’ every company that applies when a table at the event sells for thousands.

I remember being at an awards night a couple of years back and while the ‘shortlist’ for each category was long, one in particular ran into double figures!  In what world is that a shortlist?  Are these things authentic?  Because I frequently see organisations winning that are notorious no-fly zones for any jobseeker but those with no other choice.

If you pay minimum wage, your employees have to work shift patterns that play havoc with sleep patterns, the toxicity of your culture puts people on long term sick and you have more people abandoning ship than the Titanic – then no, you shouldn’t be entering an award for best workplace.

You should be putting that time, money and focus onto the problems in your organisation and righting those first.  I promise you, if you do that, you will be a great place to work and you won’t need an award to tell yourself or prospective jobseekers that you are.  Word of mouth will do that for you, you’ll be fending off friend and family referrals from your own employees at the door because you have no more vacancies.  And, the awards that you do enter, you’ll not only be shortlisted for; you’ll win!

But, it requires authenticity, and it requires commitment to doing the right thing.  And the right thing, is not always the quick or the easy thing.

It’s refreshing to work with organisations that truly want to create great workplaces, and at Vibrant we’re really lucky to be able to do that.  An organisation who wants a rubber stamp for their employer branding knows they can go elsewhere and buy it much easier than working with us.

We make it clear from the start we don’t just work with anybody, we test the commitment of the organisation that contacts us to see how much they really want change.  We’ve walked away from many opportunities because it became clear it was a tick box exercise.  So, when we do take on a client, we know they have challenges or problems to address, but we know they have good people committed to addressing them and the journey in partnering with them to help them get to where they want to be is what makes it all worthwhile.

In this organisation, we’re helping them to transform the culture of their business and become a stand out employer of choice.  We completed an extensive evaluation of the experience employees have working in the company, gave them a report with recommendations on the key areas where they should focus on making improvements, and are helping them on their transformational journey.  We call it our Vibrant Workplace programme.

One part of the solution for that particular company is to help them define and embed a leadership climate that’s right for their organisation and helps deliver on their objectives.  We’ve been scoping out what it means to be a leader in that organisation and what it should mean or needs to mean in future.  The point was raised that people don’t feel they have time to lead because they’re so focused on managing.  I smiled a little, because for me this opened up one of the most important questions every company needs to ask themselves.

What is it that you want your managers to be?

Do you want them to be task and process and product managers?  Or do you want them to be people managers?  Or both?  In my experience I would say 1% of the organisations I’ve ever worked in or with have recognised that the role of a people manager is to create the circumstances in which a team can flourish.

A high performing TEAM is worth much more and will make a more positive impact on the output of an organisation than a high performing individual who has been promoted to management but is still operational most of the time.

If you want them to be a people manager, does their remit and job structure facilitate that?  It’s all well and good saying it, but have you designed the role to allow them to do that?  Again, I usually find this is not the case.

Once you’ve decided what you want your managers to be, and maybe you want some to be technical or operational managers while others are dedicated to people management, you need to identify the right people for these roles.  So, the second key question is:

Who is going to deliver the outcome I’m looking for?

Far too often we appoint people managers because of technical expertise.  Don’t get me wrong, in-depth knowledge of the work the team does is very beneficial, and it should not be overlooked.  But the day someone is promoted and becomes a people manager is the first day team members start to catch up with them on technical proficiency.  Because it’s their job, and we should want them to be better at it than us.  As a people manager we have a different remit now, we need to embrace that and make our focus helping the team to be a success.

We end up pressuring technical experts who don’t want to lead teams into doing that type of work and they lose the buzz for their career.  They sink or swim as managers, and many sink.  They disengage with their own roles, but we expect them to engage their teams.  How can they engage others if they’re not engaged themselves?  And all the while they act an as amplifier without realising it.  A team manager sets the tone for the team.  If they’re fired up their team will be fired up.  Too often, it’s the opposite…

Then there’s those who apply for these roles by choice – but often for the wrong reasons.  To further their career, people often have to go into management.  Some don’t want to – and do it badly.  Some do want to, but only for the kudos, status and the salary increase – and do it badly.  Some don’t understand what success in the role really means and what’s expected of them – and so, do it badly.  Great people managers who are fired up, passionate and motivated by their main purpose being to help others are few and far between.

In short, all too often – we have the wrong people in people management positions.  There’s rarely a part of the recruitment process, when appointing a people manager, that involves identifying those with the right ideas, passion, enthusiasm and motivation for leading a team and wanting to work with others.  Indeed, I remember the occasion when someone in such a position once told me they wore headphones to dissuade people from coming to them with questions.  It was literally their job…

For me these are two of the biggest flaws in the world of people management:

  1. We don’t get clear on what we want the role to exist for and then design it so the remit and structure of the job facilitates that outcome
  2. We don’t hire the right people for what are critical positions that influence the performance of everyone around them

We don’t get things right at the start, and it causes so many of the problems that follow.  My advice?  When hiring for such a position, start with the outcome in mind, get clear on what you want the person in this role to be and do, then ask yourself – who is capable of delivering the outcome I seek?

What do you think are the biggest flaws in the world of people management?

P.S. When you get the right people in the right positions it is important to then work with, develop and mould them to facilitate the roles in line with your company culture and objectives.  We can work with you to help you do that and are always happy to have a chat.

Our online Vibrant Leaders programme is starting again soon too and we have 3 places left if you are a people manager who would like help with the challenges you face or you are responsible for others who you feel would benefit from the support and development.

Just drop me an email to