“Good managers understand the difference between being effective and efficient,” says David Perring, a leading voice on HR and HR tech with the Fosway Group in the United Kingdom. “Focusing on effectiveness, rather than the efficiency, gives people a strong sense of collaboration and helps people have the freedom to reimagine work.” 

Perring is one of several leading voices who contributed to a new report, The State of the Manager 2021, co-sponsored by Glint and LinkedIn Learning. The report provides data and insights about how managers are doing (specifically their employee engagement and burnout), as well as how their jobs are changing and how organizations can help managers succeed.

But manager success is an enormous topic, and experts like David had much more to say than could be included in the report. Here’s a longer interview with David on everything from human connections during remote work to a key insight about managers, teams, and belonging. 

Tell us more about good managers and what they do best . . . 

It’s all about inspiration and releasing people’s energy. It’s the manager who enables you to connect with your passions and ignite that flame. When you connect that energy with purpose, you really start to release what we technically call discretionary effort. Managers are the ones who enable us to go above and beyond. They either open up that energy or close it down. 

How do you see managers coping with the big changes wrought by the pandemic?

I don’t think there has ever been a harder time to be a manager. 

In particular, the vast increase in remote working has affected our ability to understand what’s going on inside people’s heads and hearts. Micro-movements of people’s expressions are harder to see on a video call, so our ability to genuinely connect as human beings is completely up in the air. 

And we know this isn’t going away because most people have enjoyed working from home. There’s a set of behavioral changes in how we work as teams that we’ve got to adjust to.

Given these challenges, what are some ways for organizations to support managers?

Organizations should provide managers with frameworks and coaching about how to treat people. 

There’s a whole bucket of knowledge and skills around energizing work. How do we activate people’s motivation? How do we help support their resilience? How do we think about releasing their passions? How do we make them feel they belong? How do we build trust?

Managers can be coached and supported about how to energize work. Some of that comes from intuitive understanding of relationships. But some of that is actually having the data and the insight that reveals how people are feeling.

And I think that’s one of the interesting changes in practice in the past five or 10 years—the opportunity to use employee engagement tools to provide the insight about where people are finding it difficult, or where they have aspiration and hope, and using those insights to power people up.

How do you see learning opportunities playing into “powering people up”?

People need to feel they’re growing. If they’re not learning, you’re going to lose them. Even with my gray hair, I still want to grow. 

The challenge for organizations and managers is how to engender a culture of learning in our teams. One thing that motivates us to learn is that we are social learners. So it’s what we learn from others, and what we can give to others, and the feedback that we share with others, which really makes a massive difference. 

One of the biggest things for leaders this year is trying to balance the demands of goals and expectations about “delivering numbers” in tight financial times with the fact that we’re actually all human beings. We get a blink of an eye on this planet—what are we going to do to make it worthwhile?

Given economic stress, how can managers foster a better sense of psychological safety and belonging?

Sometimes we expect managers to have answers when actually the answer belongs in the team. A lot of the belonging comes from people working as a team—sharing and supporting each other.

That’s something managers themselves have to demonstrate. Just spend a little bit more time talking about the fact that we’re all human beings. Show some respect and don’t reach out at five o’clock on a Friday evening with a new project.

Hard times can actually be good times for belonging. People drop the politics and actually help everybody else because it’s either do that or fail. That’s something that we need to encourage and hire for as much as anything else: the sense that the team matters more than me.

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The State of the Manager Report is here to support your organization with insights, inspiration, and one particularly critical idea: organizations succeed when people succeed.