Get to know your people

Managers make decisions that affect people's lives every day of the week, and some of them do so with little true knowledge of the lives involved. What chance, then, is there of a successful outcome?

When new people come into a business it is customary to introduce them to how things work, to how they may gain acceptance and to what is expected of them. What is less common is for the manager to take time to understand what drives the new colleague and what is required of them as a manager.

Managers are pivotal in the workplace, as demonstrated by research that shows that 70 per cent of people leave their manager and not the job. Each manager or leader I spoke to in the great companies emphasised the significance of getting to know your people. The willingness and ability to perch on the desk on Monday morning and chat about the weekend plays a major role in the happiness and productivity of colleagues. Mark Davies at Honda resists the temptation to rush to sorting out e-mail, letters and the week ahead in order to hear the latest news. Instead, he makes his way slowly across the office, chatting as he goes - and clearly enjoying himself. He spoke with fascination about listening to Bob Angel talk about his Sunday spent repairing old Bakelite phones, which Mark describes as being ‘works of art'.

As manager or colleague you would be well advised to find out about the people who work alongside you. I asked Steve, a shop manager for Timpsons, what he thought most important in managing the one person who works with him. ‘Treat him like a human being,' was the answer. This may seem blindingly obvious, but it is a statement I have heard many times both from those who are treated in this way and those who are not. A sad statement, but true - too often colleagues are treated as performing numbers with little respect coming their way. One Timpson manager who has been recently ‘acquired' by the company is thoroughly enjoying his new place of work because the managers are ‘hands-on, friendly, and if we have a problem, they come straight out to help'. Lee, the regional manager, already understands that he needs to stay in touch - ‘Leave him too long and his head will go down. This is not an easy shop to run, so he needs all the support he can get.'

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Working as a manager carries vast demands, so the request to get to know all of your people and take time for a regular chat can seem like one too many. But remember the wise words of John Timpson: ‘Great bosses have great people.' The minute your people under-perform it reflects on you, and more importantly, costs the business.

A popular misconception of managers is that they are not really that significant. Forget that one right now - to your direct reports YOU ARE A REALLY IMPORTANT PERSON. Do not for a moment underestimate the motivation created by you when you take the time for a chat. It is a basic statement of respect - letting people know that they matter to you. If you work in a hierarchical structure, the impact will be even greater.

What to do about it? Try the Timpson test. Mentally choose one direct report at random and answer the following. Add up the points for those you get right:

Do you know his or her

score available

your score







partner's name



children's names/ages/schools



last holiday



next holiday



main hobbies



partner's hobbies



career history



skills diplomas



health record



make of car



parents' names




If you score more than 70, you are a people person. If you score less than 70, get to know your staff better before taking the test again.

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The manager as talent scout

Apart from the marked human impact of knowing your people and showing you care about them, it is a vital part of developing potential. How can you expect to get the best out of people when you do not know what matters to them, what their ambitions are or the areas of work that excite them?

Every business needs people who are hungry for change and development. The present business environment is not one for shrinking violets who want life to remain the same. Great companies have learned the value of ‘grow your own' - they recruit mostly at entry level and grow their future senior leaders and managers in-house. Apart from the obvious benefit of upskilling in just the way the company needs, the positive impact on sustaining and building the culture is enormous.

Colleagues must demonstrate their talents, but managers have a responsibility to pay attention so that none of that ability is lost to the organisation. Because not everyone is willing to shout from the rooftops, the manager must know each person well, their style of relating, their interests and career aspirations. Just think back to a time when your manager took your ambitions seriously and how much that meant to you - now it is your chance to return the favour.

And the benefit is not only to the individual. When you identify potential and develop a team of great people, not only will you gain a reputation to match but you will also have a true team that can take some of the work off your desk; which will give you the time to get to know them even better; which will mean you can develop them well, and so on, and so on . . .

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This brings us to the thorny question of delegation and those oft- heard cries:

  • ‘I don't have time and they don't do it as well as me - it's quicker to do it myself.'

  • ‘This 'pie in the sky' idea of coaching is just not reasonable to expect. I have too many other demands to cope with.'

  • ‘My managers are shouting for action, so I just keep my head down and get on with it.'

Sound familiar? These are cries I have heard many times over the years, and I do know how tempting it is to just ‘do it yourself'. But in the long run it does not work. You get burnt out, your good people get frustrated and leave you or the company, and you end up with exactly what you believe you had in the first place - a team that is not able to do the work. It is called wish-fulfilment.

If you are going to be a great manager, you need to be a talent scout as well as delivering results, and the two go extremely well hand in hand.

What to do?

Go for a walk and do some thinking. From a distance, take a good look at the ‘game' of business. The main players are people - unless they choose to play, the game does not exist. From this perspective give some thought to your direct reports - without them your piece of the business would not exist. That is how important they are.

Then take a good look at yourself. Are you willing to give up some control and let people make mistakes? If not, get back to your desk - you have an awful lot of work to do!

Make a list of the people in your team, together with their skills, latent talents, and ambitions.

For example:

click to expand

Set aside time with each person and identify their ambitions, how excited/frustrated they are at present, and what their ideas are for improving the team output. Check how your assumptions fit with theirs.

Map aspirations against the demands of the team and see what it would look like if you gathered all the talents together.

Call a team meeting and put forward your ideas to date. Have a discussion about options and ideas, including them in the next steps.


Having found out about possible areas of talent, ambitions and hopes, you must follow through. Just listening is not enough - you will build up hopes only to dash them again, and it is hard work to retrieve yourself from that sort of let-down. So:

  • Be on the lookout for challenges you can hand on.

  • Ask each person to create an action plan, identifying the skills that need development if they are to move forward. Involve each individual in seeking out ideas for how to address these.

  • Give time to coaching and/or arrange for an appropriate mentor from within the company or team who can pass on skills and tips from their own experience.

  • Be prepared to support through new experiences, having one-toones at regular intervals - ie at least once a month - to make sure all is going well.

  • Remember not to ‘hand over and go fishing', as John Timpson says - delegation involves care, support and challenge, not abdication.

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Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Year: 2006
Pages: 100 © 2008-2017.
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