The square peg of People Management

by | Jul 27, 2016 | Employee Relations

A reality of most companies with traditional organisational structures is that the more senior an employee becomes in the organisation, the more people they manage. In fact, the acquisition of a team is often considered a rite of passage, as a result of promotion through the business. However, we don’t always appreciate that People Management requires, as Liam Neeson would say, a particular set of skills that are not universal, in the same way we are not all good with numbers, or technology.

Very often when we promote someone to manage a team, we are setting them up to fail. We have recognised how good they are at their existing job, but this says nothing about how well they could manage an enhanced role and the complexity of managing people on top of that. We invest lots of money in Personality tests that tell us lots about our employee, but other than a good self-awareness exercise, these tests rarely alter the plans we have for our employee’s career path. As sophisticated as our learning and coaching programmes are, if our employee is not predisposed to working with people in this way, the benefits of such programmes will be limited.

What then are the drawbacks of putting the wrong person in a People management role? I have lost count of the number of great people I know who have suffered major setbacks in confidence and capacity as a result of being promoted too far out of their comfort zone. Their perception and profile in the organisation changes, and the teams that they are working with can become despondent, frustrated and demotivated.

Many tech companies now lead the way in recognising their employee’s strengths and shaping their Senior roles accordingly. Traditional organisations need to follow suit although admittedly more adjustment is required as the structures are so embedded in the organisation. Employers would really benefit from a greater focus on their employee’s potential, what they are really good at, and not expect them to be great at everything. For some, people management is a square peg in a round hole.


A few years ago George Clooney firing people via video call in Up in the Air seemed outrageously inhumane. Now it's an email before getting locked out of the network. How this is acceptable, I do not know.🤯 #TwitterLayoffs