I’ve explored in a previous blog the critical role of line managers as “multipliers” to business success. This time, I develop this further, highlighting how forward-thinking, successful businesses are invested in dialling up specific capabilities of their line managers to strengthen their competitive edge.

The increasing competition for talent, the widening skills gap, and the consequences of Covid – (evolving working habits, dramatic changes in the labour market and broadening perspectives of the workforce towards their purpose and priorities), are well versed. Indeed, these issues are acutely affecting many companies day-to-day and yet, despite this, the majority of businesses do not have a People Strategy. According to the CIPD Resourcing and talent planning survey 2021, 

less than half (46%) of organisations have a workforce planning strategy based on a robust understanding of current and future workforce needs.


People strategies matter because they offer up realistic solutions to address the issues created by the factors above, helping businesses attract, retain and develop their most important asset.  And it shouldn’t be a surprise that high-quality people management is critical to the successful “on the ground” implementation of such strategies. Of course, the need to instil managers with the fundamentals of good people management isn’t new and has not changed (human beings are still human beings after all) but forward-thinking businesses are additionally invested in dialling up specific capabilities of their managers to deliver competitive advantage.

Here is my summary of three key areas where “dialling up” managerial capability will deliver positive difference to your business:

  1. Developing in-house talent with the skills required to futureproof the business, addressing the external talent gap due to the global The Great Resignation trend. In the CIPD report, this was cited as the most utilised approach to overcoming recruitment difficulties, with a third (57%) of businesses adopting this approach as part of their People Strategy. However, it requires that managers are great coaches who accelerate learning. Managers do not have to be the technical “expert” who know all the answers, but they must truly “learn how to learn” and imbue their team with the same understanding so that learning happens seamlessly in the flow of work, fostering a culture of growth and development within the team.
  2. Leveraging greater diversity by widening the pool in which managers fish to acquire external talent, built upon a deeper appreciation for what diversity – “difference” in all its wonderful guises – can bring to the team. This includes diverse work experience (e.g. different sectors that leverage similar transferable skills), depth of work experience (e.g. attracting career returners), variations in cognitive functioning or physical ability (e.g. the value of neurodiverse people) diverse background and culture (e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, education), sexual orientation, location variance (i.e. remote workers) or personality (e.g. preference for how to do things). This requires that managers get beyond the often unconscious bias for “recruiting in their own image” AND that they are then capable of managing others different to themselves to foster an inclusive environment where difference makes the team better. The CIPD report found that almost a quarter (24%) of organisations that attempted to fill vacancies say they recruited a more diverse workforce over the last 12 months compared with the previous year. But equally, that means over three quarters are still not. 
  3. Getting the best from the people in the team. This sounds obvious and on the surface sounds no different to what we’ve always expected from our people managers. But it increasingly requires that people managers have broader capabilities to lead others in an environment of evolving work practices, a plethora of technology and increased employee expectations. This includes leading flexible workers, engaging dispersed teams, maximising the wellbeing of the team, providing individuals with a greater sense of purpose and fostering greater resilience within the team.

Of course, there is a watch out here regarding your own performance as a line manager and the retention of your best line management talent beneath you. There is a risk of losing great line managers elsewhere, precisely because the skills that make them great will be at such a premium.

Managers are the leaders of their teams; in fact, they are the “chief talent officer” for their teams. This should be considered as a fundamental part of their role and come with the accountability that this demands. In other words, through the ongoing performance management process, those in people management roles should be measured as much for managing people as for anything else. However, of course, not everyone is cut out to manage others – too often it’s the person with the longest tenure or deepest product/client/industry knowledge that is given the role of managing the team, and often it is a square peg in a round people manager hole. Given everything I’ve covered above, therefore, a workforce planning strategy must also pay consideration to whether the right people are in people management roles, to begin with. Otherwise, the positive “multiplier” role that good managers play is replaced by a negative “minimiser” impact of poor people management. This doesn’t mean getting rid of those not suited to people management roles; they might be a perfect fit for an individual contributor role instead (and probably happier doing it).

So if you’re a business owner these are the questions to ask yourself:

  • How invested are you in dialling up the capabilities of your people managers (including yourself) to lead others most effectively in these evolving times? 
  • Have you got the right people in line manager roles?
  • How ready are your people managers to dial up their capabilities? (Or do they need to focus on the fundamentals first?) Are you role modelling the behaviours yourself?
  • How do your line managers coach others and help their team learn in the flow of work?
  • How does your business proactively promote diversity?
  • How do your line managers drive health and wellbeing in their teams?

By asking yourself these questions the gaps should become clearer. Of course, it should be followed by identifying interventions to target the development of managerial capability most effectively, and this is where Learning & Development expertise adds huge value. This should be viewed as an “investment” rather than a “cost” as the benefits to the business will be profound and can be measured. In fact, dialling up your people manager capability is probably the most impactful People initiative you could drive over the next few months.