The concept of “management” has taken on new significance in the aftermath of the last two years.
Managers have traditionally been trained and evaluated on their ability to oversee teams and ensure work is completed properly and on time. But against the backdrop of significant loss and hardship for many, the people-focused elements of the job have become more important than ever.
So how can managers—who are experiencing emotional turmoil themselves and quitting at 2x the rate of individual contributors—carve out time to meet the interpersonal needs of their teams?
It all comes down to building the right habits: the small, everyday behaviors that have a big impact on a manager’s ability to nurture meaningful relationships with their team.
Assisted by Humu nudges—powerful, personalized coaching moments—all managers (yourself included) can develop these habits within the flow of work. Here’s how.
1. Practice empathy
Bringing out the best in your employees requires understanding who they are and what they need as individuals. As Jessie Wisdom, our co-founder and head of people science says, “People are going through hard times and, as a manager, you have to help them through that. Part of your job is almost being a therapist.”
“People are going through hard times and, as a manager, you have to help them through that. Part of your job is almost being a therapist.”
Your employees’ expectations are also shifting. They are increasingly looking for companies, and managers, that help them find balance, flexibility, and autonomy.
Note: These are results from a survey of 240 full-time US workers and an analysis of 32,000+ employees from Humu customer organizations and 5,000+ nudges.
To create the cultural conditions that support these needs, it’s important to lead with empathy. This week, have a conversation with your team that shows you care about them as people. Instead of asking, “How are you?” which will likely result in, “Fine,” try, “What are you looking forward to this week?” or “What can I do to better support you in finding balance?” Having meaningful conversations with your team increases your capacity for empathy and strengthens your personal connections.
2. Tap into your emotions
Management has traditionally been associated with, and has rewarded, traits that are perceived as “masculine,” such as: objective, assertive, and driven. By contrast, softer skills, or those seen as more “feminine”—such as intuitive, sensitive, and nurturing—have not been seen as core elements of effective management. But there is no denying their value in the modern workplace.
These social and emotional management skills improve team dynamics, retention, and performance. We asked 80,000 employees to share, in their own words, “What makes your manager different from other managers at your organization?” People who highly rated their managers were more likely to write:
Work to create psychological safety across your team by tapping into your own emotions. Find a moment this week to share a cultural or family tradition you grew up with—something that has influenced the way you think or get work done. This can take a lot of forms, everything from sharing a brief anecdote in a meeting to an offer to make your grandmother’s latke recipe. Having the courage to share details about your personal life not only builds trust but signals to your team that they too can bring their full selves to work.
3. Lead with humility
Psst… we are going to let you in on a secret: Your team knows that you’re a human who makes mistakes. That’s why, in order to be an effective manager, it’s important to adopt a growth mindset: acknowledge your areas of improvement, actively seek feedback from above and below, and invest in change.
Our data show that even when managers are newer to the role or feel like they’re having a hard time, their team is still willing to give them grace if it’s clear they are trying to improve. In fact, employees who notice their manager taking action on behavioral nudges through Humu’s platform are 32% less likely to leave the company.
Start to strengthen your growth mindset by seeking specific feedback. The next time you solicit thoughts from your team, don’t default to “How am I doing?” Try one of these targeted options:
- How can I improve my email communication with the team?
- What is my strongest soft skill? My weakest?
- What could I be doing to share my work more consistently?
Encouraging your team to give detailed feedback, and then making an effort to improve, creates a culture of learning and humility. Plus, allowing feedback to flow freely—bidirectionally—reinforces the idea that mistakes are great opportunities for growth.
4. Empower your team to grow
At many companies, the only way to “move up” is to take on a direct report. But the skills that make someone a strong individual contributor, do not always translate into someone being a good people manager. In fact, pushing high performers into people management roles without accounting for the emotional intelligence needed to be a well-rounded manager can backfire, leaving everyone unhappy.
If management is the only "forward" career path at your organization, your employees may advocate for a promotion that doesn’t align with their skillset or interests, or look for employment elsewhere.
You can combat this career mismatch by clarifying with leadership:
- Which roles require a genuine interest in people management and which involve manager-level strategic thinking, but no direct reports.
- What the alternative career paths are for people who are talented, but not excited about people management.
Equipped with this information, you can support your team in creating more meaningful career plans. Use your 1:1s to discuss each of your team member’s hopes for advancement or career progression. During the meeting, aim to:
- Understand goals. Ask, “What does advancement at our company mean to you?”
- Learn motivations. Are they looking for more responsibility, more money, a chance to become a manager, or something else?
- Set expectations. Be as honest as you can about the ways in which you can help them to advance, and the ways in which you can’t.
Humu can help you meet the moment
It's no secret that you are busier than ever, so finding low-effort ways to build strong people management habits is key to your wellbeing and success. Rather than scramble to build a 1:1 agenda five minutes before meeting with a direct report, Humu’s timely reminders and dedicated direct report notes can help you prepare ahead of time. And if you have multiple direct reports, Humu will remind you to ask about (and help you remember!) small details about your people, whether that’s the name of their kids or pets, or a hobby they do outside of work.
Dedicating time to these smaller management habits helps build stronger relationships and more effective teams over time. Our most recent research shows that the emotional and interpersonal aspects of management (e.g. showing recognition and cultivating psychological safety) have a much larger impact on employee retention than the more traditional responsibilities of a manager, like setting goals or establishing clear structure.
To develop happier, more effective teams you must meet the moment and embrace the human side of management.