The complete guide to improving people management & empowering team leaders

TL;DR: A company’s people managers are essential for helping employees meet goals, stay productive, remain engaged, and thrive in their careers. However, the prevalence of remote and hybrid setups has led to some team leaders becoming micromanagers to ensure direct reports are doing their work.

This can have a knock-on effect, causing employees to leave due to feeling disempowered and overworked. In this playbook, we’ll show you how to update and improve your current people management processes so you can foster greater trust, positivity, and better working relationships between managers and team members.

An individual’s relationship with their manager is one of the most significant in their life. Indeed, a recent survey found that managers have a greater impact on employees’ mental health than their doctor or therapist, and just as great an effect as their spouse (1). Imagine, then, that your manager — who has so much influence in your life — isn’t confident you can do your job.

While remote and hybrid companies have found ways to give employees the flexibility they were craving pre-pandemic, they haven’t adjusted their processes or expectations for managers. As a result, 53% of managers say they’re burned out, and 85% of organizational leaders report company-wide “productivity paranoia” (2). Essentially, stressed-out managers feel the need to put extra pressure on their reports to get work done, and they lack the skills and support needed to grant their employees more trust and autonomy.

We’ve created this People Ops Playbook to help organizations equip and empower managers to lead their teams confidently. We discuss the essential skills for managing people and how executives and HR leaders can improve their current management processes. 

1. The UKG Workforce Institute, 2023

2. Microsoft Work Trend Index, 2022

What is people management?

People management involves guiding team members through the employee lifecycle with formal onboarding, training, and development processes. Additionally, managers are responsible for their team producing results and outcomes that align with current business goals. 

At the same time, people management is about ensuring employees are happy and healthy and have plenty of autonomy and flexibility to do great work. That’s why coaching is a core aspect of people management: Managers need to help their direct reports strengthen their skill sets to thrive in their current roles and meet their personal career goals. 

Ultimately, the best people managers recognize that they’re pursuing a challenging career that requires empathy, self-awareness, and a constant willingness to learn and improve.

Why good team member management matters

A photo of a manager and an employee in a meeting.

Great managers can positively impact satisfaction, performance, productivity, and ultimately, your bottom line

According to a 2022 McKinsey survey, an employee’s relationship with their manager has the greatest impact on their job satisfaction. High satisfaction, in turn, has been shown to correlate with productivity, profitability, and retention. A substandard manager, however, can push employees away: Based on our own research, HR leaders rank employees’ managers among the top three reasons for voluntary turnover.

Good managers also drive innovation and performance by making employees feel safe to speak openly, raise issues, and effect positive change. They facilitate engagement by providing team members with a greater sense of ownership over their responsibilities, goals, and achievements. It’s important to note that your organization is likely experiencing competency gaps among management in this area: One in three employees don‘t feel comfortable speaking up about issues and are unhappy with the goal-setting process and surrounding communication — leading to internal misalignment and, eventually, disengagement. 

CEO of Time Etc. Barnaby Lashbrooke observed the impact of good leadership after his company replaced their managers with coaches. “Introducing coaches has had a major impact in terms of both engagement and productivity,” he writes for Fortune. “We use Gallup’s Q12 survey to rate employee engagement, and we have consistently ranked in the top 1% of teams worldwide since implementing these changes. More generally, staff are taking fewer sick days, and employee turnover has dropped, allowing us to escape the great resignation in the aftermath of the pandemic. Meanwhile, performance on key goals has improved by up to 20%.”

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5 essential people management skills

Even though there is no perfect manager template, there are a few core competencies that every manager should possess or strive to develop. Among the most essential are:

  1. Active listening — Organizational development consultant and The Rise Journey co-founder Jes Osrow says listening with empathy is one of the biggest skills managers lack right now. “You don’t need to agree with your direct report,” according to Osrow, “but you need to be able to say to them, ‘What I’m hearing is that you’re really unhappy and struggling with your skillset. Am I hearing you correctly?’ It’s amazing how effective repeating what you heard can be. Then say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about what we can do about it.’”

  2. Willingness to check your ego — Osrow also states that, to learn how they can better serve their reports, managers must be open to asking questions like, “Could this issue be attributed to my management skills?,” and adds, “It’s okay to say, ‘Maybe I’m not the right manager for this one employee.’”

  3. Self-awareness — Layoffs and restructuring have disproportionately impacted people belonging to underrepresented groups. That’s why it’s especially vital for managers to understand the role that unconscious bias plays in the workplace and within their own decision-making practices.

  4. Adaptability — According to recent research published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, managers who embrace a transformational leadership style have the biggest positive impact on employee well-being. The transformational management approach involves tailoring your coaching style to different team members and promoting creative thinking. Based on this meta-analysis, it’s more effective than task-oriented leadership styles.
  5. An ability to recognize good work — Employees need recognition and appreciation from their managers so they know they’re on the right track regarding goals and skills. While most employees describe their company’s feedback culture positively, three out of four still want more feedback and recognition. There’s also a solid business case for ensuring managers know how to praise their team members well: Research showed employee recognition (or a lack thereof) to have a notable impact on engagement, productivity, turnover, customer satisfaction, and financial performance.
A graphic illustrating and defining the five essential people management skills
These five skills are essential for people managers who want to be successful in today’s business landscape 
🚢 Help new managers navigate uncharted waters

Leapsome has the tools you need to identify your managers’ areas of improvement, develop their skills, and help them grow over time.

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

Use this playbook if you’ve heard persistent criticism about managerial practices or noticed that performance review scores are stagnating for one or two teams. It could be that you only have one or two team leads who spend more time focusing on their role as contributors rather than as managers. Even so, use this as an opportunity to update your management processes across the board. 

Additionally, you can also use this playbook when you notice:

  • An increase in turnover
  • A greater difficulty in retaining top performers
  • A drop in engagement company-wide or for a specific department
  • Rising absenteeism
  • Reports of burnout
  • Increased instances of micromanagement
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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

Engagement scores 

You’ll need quantitative data from engagement surveys to diagnose issues with your current management processes. Make sure to use a customizable platform like Leapsome so you can tweak engagement surveys to include questions about employees’ perception of their managers and discover how this impacts your current employee engagement. Doing so sets you apart from a vast majority of organizations, because only one in three HR leaders currently track essential metrics like engagement. Among those who do, only a third use dedicated surveys, which often leads to HR overestimating or incorrectly assessing employee engagement.  

Access to previous performance reviews

It will also be helpful to study previous performance review data to see where employee scores may have been positively or negatively influenced by their manager’s involvement and behavior. If you use a 360-degree feedback process for evaluating everyone at your company, you’ll be able to compare what managers say about their performance against what their colleagues and direct reports say, highlighting any disconnects in perception.

Note that one-third of employees are dissatisfied with their organization’s current performance review process, and the majority of staff call for more frequent and better performance reviews. That’s a strong sign for companies to not only leverage their employee data to assess managerial processes, but to have a look at their performance management as well.

Learning & development tools

Once you’ve determined what skills managers need to build, you’ll want to deliver training that’s relevant to their current gaps. It’s best to use a customizable platform like Leapsome Learning to create bespoke, interactive courses for managers that track their progress.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Don’t expect change to happen overnight — After you implement training initiatives and update your expectations, it may take a few months to notice an improvement in manager performance. Be patient and recognize that even the slightest progress is worth the effort.

  • Not everyone can be a manager — A skilled independent contributor doesn’t always make the best leader. Give new managers plenty of time to learn and grow, but if they aren’t helping their reports succeed, they may not have the talent or desire to be in that role. That doesn’t make them a failure; it simply means they can better utilize their skills elsewhere.

  • Celebrate your managers, even when they’re struggling — It’s easy to overlook how hard team leaders work when you focus only on where they need to grow. Be sure to recognize them for their willingness to take action on feedback and learn, which can be a humbling experience.
  • Consider how C-suite and senior leadership model management Remember that team leaders are looking up to their own supervisors for examples of leadership, or they’re thinking back to how they were managed in the past. If managers throughout your company are exhibiting toxic habits, it could be due to negative influences from the top.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

Source employee feedback on managers & and get granular with data 

To gather useful team member input on managers, make sure any questions you ask are direct and specific. Avoid less focused prompts such as, “I feel supported to make decisions on my own” or “I feel safe speaking up about issues.” The key is to identify what roles managers are playing in your team members’ current lack of engagement or feelings of frustration. 

Here are some possible questions and prompts to include in engagement surveys:

  • Does your manager provide clear expectations and guidance for your role?
  • Does your manager regularly communicate about team goals and company objectives?
  • Does your manager acknowledge your contributions and offer positive feedback?
  • Does your manager support your professional growth?
  • Does your manager help you avoid overwork and promote work-life balance?
  • Do you feel comfortable talking to your manager about workplace conflicts or issues?

Include a few of these questions in regular engagement surveys and pulse surveys. You can also ask team members to discuss these issues during 360-degree evaluations.

Investigate results in depth to learn what managers are missing. For example, they may be great at promoting healthy work-life integration but struggle with assisting team member growth and development. Perhaps some of your team leaders have never managed anyone before and need training to support their reports’ professional goals better. 

Set more meaningful goals for your people managers

Organizations often tie a manager’s success to their team’s results, but that doesn’t encourage managers to focus on other key aspects of their role, such as employee well-being, development, recognition, and workload management.

If these additional aspects of people management sound like a distraction from delivering outcomes, think again: According to McKinsey research, companies in which managers foster creativity and trust and build positive environments achieve better bottom-line returns.

To inform which goals you’ll prioritize for managers, take the time to analyze your employee data. Performance review analytics, for instance, would show if your team leads struggle with coaching their reports and supporting their long-term development. 

After defining the most relevant objectives, utilize Leapsome’s Goals module to set and track manager targets, such as these:

  • Supported by weekly check-ins, employees achieve 50% of their development goals within the next six months.
  • Manager scores on engagement surveys increase by 20% on average within the next two survey cycles.
  • Manager performance review scores on coaching and development increase by 10% in the next 360-degree evaluation.

Invest in manager training & development

A screenshot of Leapsome’s Learning module.
Leapsome’s Learning module allows you to create bespoke training courses that address specific managerial skills gaps

According to a new study from researchers at the University of California and the University of Michigan, providing soft skills training to managers can help them be more effective in their roles and prevent them from churning. This suggests that it’s always valuable to put in the time and resources to train team leads, even if they already have a lot of experience in that role.

Skills like active listening, coaching, and conflict resolution are pivotal to great management but aren’t necessarily innate. Team leaders need learning and practice to perfect those competencies, especially those new to their roles. That’s why organizational leaders should:

  • Use Leapsome’s Learning module to create interactive training courses tailored to help managers overcome challenges and skills gaps.
  • Ask external manager training consultants to lead coaching and mentorship workshops
  • Allow managers to attend more strategic planning meetings to learn about aligning company and team goals. 
  • Encourage team leads to meet with their cross-functional counterparts to learn more about their leadership practices.

Make expectations for managers explicit 

If team leads are underperforming in certain areas, it could be due to a lack of clarity from the top down. “It’s important to define what successful management looks like and what not-so-successful management looks like for your organization,” says Jes Osrow. 

To ensure your people managers have a clear sense of their governing parameters, you should:

  • Create a managerial expectations statement where you outline management standards, connecting them to company values and business objectives.
  • Have managers participate in regular performance reviews where their direct supervisor and direct reports evaluate them based on their leadership skills. 
  • Recognize and reward team leaders who excel at the manager-specific aspects of their role, such as coaching, active listening, and adaptability.

Resources for first-time managers

We compiled a comprehensive list of guides and articles aimed at helping new managers get up to speed. You can find these and other resources on our blog and knowledge hub.




Performance & reviews


Compensation & promotion

Manage your people better with Leapsome

A screenshot of an AI-powered feedback summary from Leapsome’s Reviews module.
Leapsome’s Reviews module helps you make assessments more positive, unbiased, and focused on skills and development — with AI-powered feedback support and summaries

Developing successful people managers starts with the understanding that they need support, training, and accountability to become more proficient in their roles. A skilled team member isn’t automatically also a great leader — they need plenty of feedback on their managerial performance to help them grow.

Leapsome can help you pinpoint where managers need to improve, and it allows you to build the training and development resources to help them become more effective:

  • Use our Surveys module to gather employee feedback on their team leads
  • Our Goals module allows you to set more results-oriented management objectives
  • With Leapsome Learning, you can create customized management training courses
  • Use our Reviews module to evaluate managers based on their skills as team leaders and not as individual contributors.

In a dynamic work landscape, Leapsome provides the tools to empower managers — fostering an environment where they can excel, support their teams, and lead with confidence.

😁 Watch managers grow and employee satisfaction rates rise

Leapsome allows you to implement better people management strategies and track their success with in-depth analytics.

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