Poor, old line managers. Yet another survey, this time from the CIPD, slamming their ability to manage and get the best out of their people. While we’ve all had bosses whose soft skills leave something to be desired, it’s hard not to feel a certain amount of sympathy for these frequently lambasted folk on the front line.

line managers

Often, they have been promoted into their roles on the strength of their technical or specialist abilities. Even though they may never have had experience of managing a team, they are somehow ‘expected’ to know how to do it. One minute they are in their specialist comfort zone, the next they are having to deal with everything from under-performing staff, clashes between colleagues and sensitive sickness or stress-related conversations.

Organisations need to recognise that if they want their managers to run effective, high-performing teams, they need to equip them with the right skills and put support mechanisms in place. A performance management system can help with this. These are five key areas where managers most often need to build their capabilities:

1. Giving Feedback

Giving effective feedback, both positive and negative, is an essential management skill which many managers struggle with. If they don’t praise employees when they’ve done well, they will leave people feeling under-valued and unappreciated. Or they may avoid pulling people up on their performance – often because they are worried employees will get angry or upset. The key is to equip managers with practical techniques for delivering feedback. Encourage them to make feedback an integral part of the way they manage people on a daily basis, rather than something that only happens during the annual appraisal.

2. Managing Challenging Conversations

Difficult conversations are part and parcel of working life. But while managers are generally comfortable getting into a tricky negotiation or sparring with a difficult client, the prospect of a challenging conversation with a member of their team is something they are often less confident about. An employee asking for a pay rise or promotion that has to be turned down, two colleagues who can’t seem to get on, a team member who is hampering progress by refusing to accept new working practices …. the list of scenarios is endless. Organisations first need to make sure managers are well versed in company policies and

Organisations first need to make sure managers are well versed in company policies and procedures so they can go into conversations on a firm footing. A people management software can help with this. They also need to equip them with the skills to plan for and manage a constructive conversation that ends in a win-win for both parties. Bring in an external trainer to help facilitate realistic role plays for an effective way to build skills and confidence in this area.

3. Setting clear objectives

Objective setting is a task that is often overlooked. Managers regard it as time-consuming and unnecessary. They assume that people will just know what they are supposed to be doing. The truth, however, is that in fast-moving and busy working environments, people are often confused about what the priorities are. When boundaries are shifting constantly and people are faced with conflicting demands, they tend to descend into fire-fighting and can make themselves very busy – doing the wrong things.

Setting clear objectives, and reviewing these at least quarterly, ensures that people are clear about what’s important and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. HR software systems, like Cezanne HR, can support this approach by providing a central place where objectives can be recorded, easily accessed and adjusted if necessary.

4. Delegating effectively

Newly promoted managers often find it hard to ‘let go’ of tasks they have been used to handling themselves. Or, when they do delegate, they often do it half-heartedly, not giving people the full picture or failing to give them proper accountability for the task they are handing over. Effective delegation is a skill, which requires the manager to judge what individual members of their team are capable of, what coaching or support they may need to complete a task and what level of responsibility it is appropriate to hand over. Training courses, e-learning materials and books on this topic are widely available and well worth the investment. Managers who don’t have the skills to delegate properly are not just hampering the development of their team, they are also unlikely to be performing effectively themselves because they are overloaded and not leaving room for the strategic aspects of their role.

5. Managing Stress

In the increasingly frenetic environments we work in, it’s all too easy for ‘normal’ work pressures to tip over into unacceptable levels of stress. Indeed, work-related stress is now the biggest cause of sickness absence. Managers need training in how to spot and deal with the signs of stress in their team, as well as guidance on when it is appropriate to signpost people to other, professional sources of support.

Mental Health First Aid training is one initiative that can help managers build awareness and learn how best to respond. Organisations also need to support managers in finding appropriate ways to organise and design work so that they are making the best use of their resources without tipping people over the edge.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.