Hiring & Empowering Great People Managers

A good manager can transform work—inspiring direct reports to grow and contribute more meaningfully, encouraging cross-departmental collaboration, acting as an advocate for their team, helping the company crush its goals… and just making the office a more pleasant place to be. And the effects of a not-so-great manager can quickly spiral into disengagement, low morale, and ultimately, attrition.

Given the outsize impact managers can have on your org, how can you make sure you’re hiring the right people managers and empowering them to do their jobs well? This was the question we asked Kristen Hayward, VP of Recruiting at Hustle and Elliot Epstein, Head of People Operations at Knotel in our recent webinar, “Hiring & Empowering Managers: How to Recruit and Train Managers to Maximize Team and Business Goals.”

Part 1: How to hire exceptional people managers

Kristen Hayward, VP of Recruiting at Hustle, underlined the importance of structured hiring in identifying exceptional people managers. The key components of structured hiring include defining the candidate by the business objectives of the job, using a deliberate process and rubric to assess all candidates, and making hiring decisions based on data and evidence.

"Structured hiring is the close alignment between a hiring partner and a recruiting partner."

The foundation to successful structured hiring is a rock-solid job description. “Don’t just copy and paste a job description you find somewhere else,” advises Kristen. Diagnose the needs of your organization with a 30/60/90-day plan, determine how you’ll measure success, and clearly define the business objectives of the role. 

"Only if we can benchmark the business objectives of the job can we then design a deliberate process to be able to test and ensure we find that great fit."

Regarding the interview process itself, Kristen outlined a few key stages that she recommends, including a pre-brief with interviewers. The goal of this session is to get interviewers on the same page so they know which qualities they’re assessing, but also so they clearly understand their role in the decision-making process. 

Interview kits and scorecards are helpful in structured hiring for a number of reasons: They can help limit bias, they keep interviewers focused on assessing key attributes, and they create a consistent process for candidates.

When it comes to assessing a people manager during the interview process, Kristen suggests focusing on four primary areas:

  1. Overall leadership
  2. Alignment with company values
  3. Role-specific fit
  4. Long-term potential

Part 2: Empowering managers to succeed

Elliot Epstein, Head of People Operations at Knotel, shared his approach to empowering managers to succeed—it all depends on creating a culture of humility and feedback. Elliot says, “Managers should demonstrate authenticity and humility in terms of their own development so their people can feel safe to do the same thing.

By openly soliciting feedback from their teams on a regular basis, managers demonstrate that they’re open to improving and want to better serve their teams. As a result, their team members will learn not to fear feedback but to welcome it as a tool for their own growth and professional development.

Elliot explained that feedback is only useful when it’s specific and actionable. This goes for both positive and constructive feedback. For example, telling someone “Great job!” might make them feel good, but it doesn’t give them any specific behavior or action to focus on in the future. If you can zoom in on one specific thing, like the way they kicked off the meeting with a detailed agenda or how they handled a particular objection, you’ll be setting them up for success in the future.

Similarly, when giving constructive feedback, think carefully about your wording and the attributes you’re describing. Is it something that is inherent to the person, a part of their character, or is it something they have the ability to change like an action? Calling someone “sloppy” could very well be seen as a personal attack, while letting them know that a report contained numerous typos gives them a specific skill to focus on improving.

Elliot illustrated his point with these playing cards (he credits LifeLabs for the idea). The cards with the rounded edges (the heart and club) represent feedback that is too vague and not actionable, while the cards with pointed edges (the diamond and spade) offer feedback that’s specific enough that the recipient can act upon it.

For many people, feedback can create feelings of anxiety and nervousness. This is especially the case if it only happens once or twice a year during the performance review process. This is why Elliot advocates creating a regular routine for giving and receiving feedback, such as during manager/direct report one-on-ones.

"If you have built in structure in your one-on-ones, feedback stops being scary and sets up the foundation for a really great relationship."

Knotel has also launched a successful program called “Feedback Friday.” Knotel keeps open tabs at a few local neighborhood spots so that employees can invite each other to have an informal feedback session in a more relaxed environment. Elliot says, “It really helps people to work together, build trust, and build camaraderie.

Want to hear even more actionable tips from Kristen and Elliot, plus their fireside chat with Lattice CEO Jack Altman? Get the full scoop on how to interview, assess, and empower exceptional managers when you watch the full recorded webinar here.  

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Thought Leadership