People Management Tips for First-Time Managers

A promotion to a management position — or starting a new role — is a big step in your career.

While this is an exciting time, it’s also full of uncertainties and nerves.

Whether you are the CEO, starting a new role with more responsibilities, or becoming a manager, knowing how to work with others is an important part of any job.

People skills can be learned at any point in your career, whether you’re a new manager or seasoned.

These skills take time to master, so best the time to start improving those skills, is now.

Before you get too overwhelmed by new processes and more responsibilities, take a look at these people managements tips and reflect on how you can implement them at your new position.

I recommend that you save this article so that you can reference it throughout your management journey for quick, expert tips to help you navigate your new position.

What is People Management?

People management is a broad topic.

It covers everything from how to mediate conflict between employees to properly communicating and even how to build effective teams.

People management is different from performance management because it focuses on the employee’s well-being rather than the individual’s work.

One covers performance goals while the other one focuses on enabling employees how to solve problems and engage effectively with teammates.

People management is the process of training, motivating and directing employees to optimize workplace productivity and promote professional growth.

This is a necessary quality for current and future managers because it aims to improve the workplace culture and it also propels employees for success. It helps oversee workflow and boost employee performance every day.

Building and improving your people management skills doesn’t have to be rocket science. All you need is to make small changes in your mindset and your perspective on problems — maybe even do a leadership training development program.

Below is a set of tips to help you tweak your approach as a manager and become a more effective leader.

👂 Start by Listening

When we talk about good listening, we think this only happens at the beginning and end of a conversation: being attentive, making eye contact, taking notes (if necessary), and waiting for the other person to end their thoughts before sharing ours. And yes, these are all part of good listening skills.

But good listening is even more crucial when you are a manager.

You have to keep an open mind when talking to an employee and not jump to conclusions before or during conversations, according to Dianne Schilling, an expert on emotional intelligence.

In other words, don’t assume — what they are thinking, what is the problem, what is the solution. Instead, ask. Even if they think the answers are obvious, as a manager, is important to listen to your employee’s reasoning and thought processes about a situation as much as possible.

Later in this blog, we will dive into asking questions and their importance.

🚩 Personal Problems vs Organizational Issues

Employees are going to have problems no matter what. The world is not perfect and neither are humans  — and that’s okay.

As a manager, your role is to understand problems are not created equal.

They have different root causes and most of the time, they fall into two categories: personal problems and organizational issues.

Although they might manifest in similar formats when talking to your employees, understanding the difference between the two is crucial.

“Treating an organizational problem like a person is like putting a bandaid on a broken window. Similarly, treating a personal issue like an organizational one is like removing personal and organizational categories.” Lattice Team.

Personal problems can look like this:

  • An individual’s workload,
  • Individual’s problems with their process,
  • An individual’s dissatisfaction with their teammates or performance,
  • An individual’s unhappiness with work.

These types of problems can be addressed with your people management skills and no significant reorganization.

Organizational issues look like this:

  • Teams unable to cope with demands of workload collectively,
  • Workflow problems frequently result in errors or delays,
  • Hostility between teammates,
  • Lack of communication and trust between team members.

These cannot be solved by solving one employee’s problem. They stem from inherent problems in the organization.

🏆 Focus on Employee’s Purpose

In order to properly communicate with your employees, you need to understand what draws them to their roles. What gets them up from bed every morning. In other words, what is their purpose?

The purpose is one of the most significant aspects of what keeps people happy and satisfied with their role at any company. It is what drives them to succeed and push themselves professionally.

Knowing your employee’s purpose will help you inspire them individually. Thus, benefiting the whole team.

People want to work on projects they see fit with their skills, or in roles where they can grow and learn (especially if they have a growth mindset and you inflict a culture of learning at work).

To help your employee see the impact their work makes on the organization and overall team, you need to help them understand that there is a profound sense of purpose.

The best way to help team members feel a more profound sense of purpose in their work is to help them foster an emotional connection to the work that they do for the organization.

Here’s how to make your employees feel valued at work and how to find a sense of purpose in their work

⚖️ It’s About the Balance: Praise and Criticism

Even though it might seem easier to give praise than criticism, many surveys show that this theory doesn’t work well in workplaces.

One survey showed 44% of managers say giving negative feedback is stressful, yet a shockingly 40% of the same group say they never gave positive reinforcement.

Employees need a balance between both good and negative feedback to thrive and grow.

The presence of a feedback culture is important for both your organization and your employees.

For the company, it cultivates fairness, and transparency, and enhances the capabilities to evolve and overcome challenges.

Effective feedback allows employees to grow both personally and professionally, improve their skills, and tackle their weaknesses.

If you only give praise, you won’t help your employees grow. And if you only focus on criticism, your employees will be on-edge constantly and you’ll risk losing psychological safety.

Proving feedback it's hard. It's even more difficult to give constructive feedback.

As managers, we get worried it may be misinterpreted or taken in the wrong way. But it's an important part of growth and learning.

Read this first time manager’s guide to cultivate accountability and effective feedback at any startup

💭 Ask Questions

Whether it's a quarterly performance review or prep for a client meeting, you should always “end every important conversation with, "Is there anything else?”, according to David Hauser, founder of Grasshopper, in his 2017 SaaSFest talk.

This open-ended question is crucial because whatever is at the top of their mind will come out.

Their answer will give you an opening to ask follow-up questions, but also allow your employees to ask for help if they needed rather than waiting for a big meeting where the team tackles “highs and lows.”

Questions during manager-employee conversations also keep you in the loop of what’s happening under your noses without having to micromanage the team.

People management relies on interpersonal relationships and building connections, and asking questions is a crucial part of this. However, asking questions doesn’t come easily to everyone.

In this blog, I cover how to have insightful career developments conversations with employees and the 7 questions every manager should be asking

🤝 The Power of Check-Ins

Imagine this, as an employee you’ve always had a smooth sailing ride at work. Suddenly, you run into a problem and since you haven’t had to regularly speak to your supervisor you’re unsure how to proceed — do you message on Slack? Call? Would they get mad?

Anyone would feel lost in a situation like this.

As a manager, you shouldn’t wait for your employees to run into a problem before making a point of contact.

Conversations — informal and formal — should be consistent, even when there’s nothing wrong.

Regularly scheduled meetings set an expectation of communication and provide a space for employees to turn when situations become difficult at work.

Meeting once a week is ideal, but even biweekly updates will help keep your employees engaged and on the same page.

Doing one-on-ones doesn’t have to be complicated.

The most effective one-on-one are the ones we prepare for, that we have plans for, and that we actually have spent time thinking about.

But we don't always have that time to plan.

At Unicorn Labs, we’ve come up with this set of questions to help you coach during your one-on-ones rather than what you're probably used to which is giving all the answers.

Here is a list of tools to help you have better conversations as a manager.

If you’re looking to enhance your 1-1s, read this blog.


Great managers are proactive.

They are ready to tackle the needs of their workplace and support their employees when necessary.

Whether you’re listening to people’s problems (and solutions) or helping them find their purpose within the organization, improving your people management skills will help you balance the people side of your company.

Now, if you’re still unsure how you can elevate your skills, consider joining a leadership training development program.

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