Top tips to hire a great people manager and boost staff retention

Great managers are a crucial part of retaining great people – but hiring them can be tough. Here are our five top tips for hiring great people managers.

Abbi Melville • 
Top tips to hire a great people manager and boost staff retention

Given the events and drama of recent times: pandemic, mass employee burnout, a resignation epidemic, and critical talent shortages… 2023 is set to be the year of employee retention.

Employers will surely continue to throw pay rises, flexible working, and other perks into the mix to stem the flow of talent.  But there is one perk that deserves more attention, and this is great people managers. It’s often overlooked because employers don’t realise that around half of employees leave because of their line managers, and not due to poor company perks – at least, according to research from Gallup.

What Gallup also discovered was that employers, ‘fail to choose the managerial candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time’. So there’s huge room for improvement when hiring people managers. With that in mind, here are some excellent tips on how to hire great people managers and boost staff retention.

1. Ensure that only suitable candidates are promoted into people management

Gallup’s research revealed that the top reasons that employees are being internally hired into people management was because they were successful in a previous non-managerial role, or they have a lot of general experience or tenure. It was rather worryingly not down to their perceived people management competency or potential.  It is important to ensure that promoted people managers earn the position by showing promise, talent, or experience in people management and aren’t allowed to just fall into a role due to inertia.

2. Develop a great people manager profile standard

Back in 2008, Google first launched the enduring Project Oxygen which was a pioneering big people data crunching project which identified the top 10 behaviours of their highest performing managers, which were:

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers and doesn’t micromanage
  3. Has a clear vision for the team
  4. Creates an inclusive team environment
  5. Is productive and results-orientated and leads by example
  6. Is a good communicator and listens to the team
  7. Supports career development and discusses performance
  8. Has key technical skills to advise the team
  9. Collaborates well across the organisation
  10. Is a strong decision maker

This people manager’s success profile was developed by Google HR professionals and is geared toward that environment, so may not be appropriate for your business. But it’s a pretty good starting point if you have nothing else to work with!

Ideally, HR professionals should develop their own company-specific “great people manager profile”, by crunching and correlating performance appraisal data with competency, personality, and behaviour profiles. These management standards should be incorporated into to the candidate assessment and selection process.

3. Conduct structured interviews

Left to their own devices, people managers can often end up conducting interviews in an informal fashion, often taking the form of a relaxed chat about the candidate’s previous job and experience and outside interests. It’s a seductive path of least resistance interview technique that is often riddled with employment law breaches and known bad practices and has very poor reliability outcomes compared to other methods. Behavioural Science research from the CIPD  recommends the pre-committing to a set of interview questions that are directly related to your great people manager competencies. Structuring the interview in this way can help to improve its ability to predict performance on the job and hire more suitable people managers.

4. Use the behavioural interviewing format

Modern interview best practice asserts that a candidate’s past behaviour is the most reliable predictor of future performance.

Questions that assess a person’s past behaviour in a competency area (known as behavioural questions), are deemed to be more reliable predictors of performance than what-if hypothetical questions that ask candidates to imagine what they would do if placed in such a scenario. A good behavioural question about a people manager candidate’s ability to coach, might be ‘Can you tell me about a situation where you had to coach someone else to reach a personal goal? What was the goal and what coaching action did you take to help them reach that goal? Were you an effective coach in this instance? How do you know?’

So, when asking candidates questions about people management competencies, if your people managers can focus on behavioural format questioning, this will boost the quality of hire.

5. Great people managers must be adaptable

Gartner research has shown that a massive 65% of the tasks that a manager does have the potential to be automated by 2025. This includes things like monitoring direct reports’ completion of tasks, providing performance feedback, and supporting employees in building new peer connections. Experts suggest that this transition will require people managers to change their own mindsets and skillsets from managing tasks to managing the full experience – a kind of life coach. This shows that great people managers must now be adaptable, and employers should prioritise this quality when assessing and selecting candidates.

Great people managers are the organisational catalyst, driving engagement and retention. But they are in scarce supply with just 1 in 10 having the natural talent to manage. It’s crucial therefore that organisations have the right hiring structure in place to identify and select great people managers and ensure competitive advantage and organisational success.