Front-line managers serve a critical role in driving performance in your organization, especially in hybrid and remote work environments. And HR can play a powerful role in helping onboard, upskill, and provide ongoing support to new managers.
“You may have your day job, but you also have a responsibility to work with the team across the organization around key and critical deliverables,” said Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, a member of the Betterworks “The Future of Work” Advisory Council and chief HR officer at Cohesity, in a session during the 2021 Betterworks’ EmpowerHR summit last December. Because managers are crucial to the success of those deliverables, they deserve more attention from HR, according to the panel members.
Here’s how HR can support managers across the organization to produce better outcomes for the workforce and the business.
Equip Managers to Lead With Empathy
Employee needs continue to evolve. Managers need to be vigilant and prepared to meet team members where they are. “As a manager, you’re… expected to be much more in tune with some of these new needs that employees have,” said Susan Lovegren, who serves as an adviser to a number of technology companies. “There’s much more of an emphasis on this holistic approach of ensuring that people have the tools and resources to do their job, to be accountable.”
Building a positive, empathetic culture is critical to helping employees succeed in the new world of work. “We know that people are going to work for the companies with great cultures where they’re really cared about,” said summit co-speaker Diane K. Adams, chief culture and talent officer at Sprinklr. “We’ve got to lead with empathy, and we’ve got to drive accountability and results.”
A lot of the pressure to lead with empathy is on managers. By combining personal conversations with real-life performance metrics, managers can significantly influence their team members. “Those two, right now, are probably the most powerful things that we’re doing to really amplify the culture that we’re creating,” Adams said.
When deployed with intention, technology can play an important support role for managers. Tools like Betterworks, for example, provide transparency into team goals, prompting managers to have more effective conversations with team members. “It never will replace the human touch, it will never replace a good manager,” Lovegren said, “but it sure can make that manager a whole lot smarter and a lot more equipped to respond appropriately to today’s changing needs.”
Set Clear Communication Expectations
Good communication is key for effective management, but not every manager comes into the role knowing what that entails. Providing clear guidance and expectations can help.
Empower managers by providing better communication tools and skills. Adams and her team spelled out a clear communication cadence to help managers form these skills and bonds with their teams, with Adams noting that sharing and listening are essential for building trust.
Here’s the cadence that works for Adams’ team: Every week, each manager must have a one-on-one with each of their direct reports and host a weekly team meeting. At least quarterly, managers have one-on-one sessions with their reports to assess employee happiness and satisfaction, leading to a conversation about performance and potential. HR teams and managers also host quarterly listening forums of 12 to 15 people to gauge what’s working and what needs to change. Company leaders also host quarterly all-hands meetings to hear from the full workforce.
Setting clear expectations and a communication schedule can help managers build intentional touch points with employees into their regular workflows.
Upgrade Manager Training Programs
To get managers to the point where they can lead with empathy and uphold the business’s standards, we need to reconsider how we deliver manager training programs and what that content needs to be.
“A lot of the work we’re doing right now is thinking more differently through the manager’s lens,” said Cappellanti-Wolf. Providing special training and development opportunities and spelling out guidelines for using technology can build better leadership skills in your management team. Focusing on leader-led conversations and cohort discussions can offer peer support.
Adams and her team have developed a leadership certification course for managers within the company. Earning the certification demonstrates that leaders understand the standards created by company culture and values. “Everyone is crystal-clear what it means to show up as a leader,” Adams said.
Yesterday’s approach to HR is moving straight ahead without looking side to side or providing support where it’s needed. Today’s approach requires HR’s support to be more integrated across the business. “There’s less of these monolithic centers of excellence and more about organizations and hubs that really support the customer in a very different way,” Cappellanti-Wolf said. HR’s customers include the business and the workforce, and better support starts with learning how to best support managers.
Help managers strengthen their most important relationships