Rising expectations

The expectations placed upon people managers keep rising, fuelled by diverse generations at the workplace, hybrid work models, social responsibility, focus on well-being and engagement, the war for talent, the evolutions of skills and many more. These increased expectations of people managers demand a shift in how we perceive and support them.

According to Gallup, in their 2023 State of the Workplace report, 70% of employee and team engagement is attributable to the effectiveness of people managers. This insight underpins the significant role they play in shaping the organization’s culture and driving performance and success.

Call for change 

Following this report, Jon Clifton, Gallup’s CEO, framed a bold call for change: “change the way people are managed to potentially save the world”. According to him, the profound impact of effective people management is not just a boost for organizational success, it is a transformative force.
If that is true, then what do we need to change?

It is about creating an environment and support that enables them to be “better” managers – those who can inspire high performance, foster engagement, grow and retain talent and contribute to the well-being of their teams.

Also, according to Gallup, employees with better managers are 15,4 times more likely to be high performers, 13,4% more engaged, 3,2 times more likely to stay and enjoy 12,5% higher physical and mental well-being. The correlations between managerial quality and organizational impact are clear, but the challenge lies in defining what makes people managers truly “better”.

No extra pressure on the people managers please

Unfortunately, here comes a painful truth. Many managers are feeling the weight of their responsibilities. A survey from Gartner on over nine thousand people managers in 23 industries and across 6 regions reveals that 45% of the people managers spend more time on projects than on managing people. 54% suffer from work-induced stress and only half of the employees have confidence in their managers’ ability to lead.
This raises the pressing question: how to support people managers to become “better” without overwhelming them further?

The oxygen dilemma

Typically, organizations respond by investing in more development opportunities and embracing self-service HR processes. While these initiatives are crucial, and should continue, they often add to the workload and responsibilities of people managers. Instead, we might want to try to pause and check in with them. How are they feeling, what support would they need, what would help them to become “better” people managers?

The self-care analogy: “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” applies here. When in an airplane, if there is an incident with cabin pressure, people need to put on the own oxygen mask first before they try to help others. The same applies to people managers. They need to take care of themselves first before they can support others. So, if we want to create “better” people managers, we must provide them with oxygen so they can thrive.

Honest and holistic reflection

Therefore, setting people managers up for success requires an honest and holistic analysis of their roles today, the expectations placed upon them, the support they receive and the culture they work in.
Simply said: how can we improve their effectiveness and engagement?

To answer that question, let us zoom in on 3 levels.

Level 1 – the people managers role

Are you clear on what you expect from your people managers? Do they know?
Conduct an evaluation of the current responsibilities and expectations.
Reflect on questions like how much time they should be able to allocate to managing people based on the responsibilities and expectations? How much time can they really allocate? What is the gap? What is required to shift this?

If there is clarity on the role, how do you ensure people managers are held accountable and or recognized? In other words, should they prioritize managing their people over delivering on the objectives? How much weight does the performance review systems attribute to people management? How do you measure this? Do you hold people managers accountable? What do you reward?

Level 2 – Systems and procedures

The next level is about assessing existing supportive systems and procedures you have in place for people managers.
Are they supportive and creating value and efficiency for the people managers, rather than adding extra responsibilities and tasks. Ask the people managers to understand where they see opportunities to create simplicity and efficiency and reduce workload. Review some potential long-standing processes and asses if they are still relevant.

Level 3 – Organization culture

Finally, the organisations culture. Many organisations invest in culture and values programs. Reflect on your organisations culture and to which extent it truly empowers people managers and set them up for success. Ask people managers about their experiences. Do you recognize good people managers? Who typically gets promoted? The talent magnet people manager who attracts, grow talents, and promotes internal mobility or the people manager who overdelivers on the objectives? Do people managers have the power to decide and deliver, or are they being micromanaged? This is probably the hardest and most inconvenient to assess and shift if needed.

Involve them!

When you do this analysis, make sure you hear from your people managers. Do not just put yourself in their shoes and assume but involve and ask them.

An effective way to start is to set up focus groups of people managers.
Create a safe space for them to speak up and understand what they feel and experience. Ask their ideas for improvement.

However, be mindful not to create a catch-22 situation by inviting the already busy people managers to spend time in focus groups and interviews and not act upon it.
Therefore, before you do initiate this process of analyses and reflection, there are two critical success factors to validate before you start.

  1. A mandate for change.
    The above reflection will bring new insights, and ideas, big and small. Ensure you have a mandate to drive change and act upon (some) of the insights and ideas.
  2. Manage expectations
    Manage expectations upfront. If some key people processes are out of scope, be transparent about it. Help the people managers to focus their precious time on where they can have impact.


A journey towards supporting people managers to become “better” requires an honest and holistic approach, it takes a clear mandate and time but it is key so you can create the environment wherein people managers can thrive, lead and inspire