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Manager Selection: Are We Getting It Wrong?

People managers are the glue binding individuals and businesses together, but too often manager selection processes fail us.

For decades, being a ‘manager’ has carried a bad reputation. Seen as a bureaucratic, form-filling, supervisory role, without the inspiration and glamor of strategizing and leading. Yet, every day, all over the world, people managers are relied upon to be the bridge between senior leaders and teams, to translate corporate communications, deliver difficult messages (without damaging engagement or losing critical talent), personalize work, anticipate change, build genuine understanding and connection with individuals, nurture new skills, and build future-ready teams.

The impact of capable, well-supported, and empowered managers on people and businesses is clear, but all too often we are letting this group and their teams down. Responsibilities are poorly scoped, support and enablement is sketchy, and the wrong people are making it into these critical roles. This is seriously impacting workforce engagement, performance, and wellbeing.

Overworked and undervalued

61% of managers report having more responsibilities at work since pre-pandemic times in multiple areas of their jobs and this is leading to burnout. Manager roles are expanding, perhaps owing to the bleeding of work into life, and those in management are navigating highly complex, often emotionally charged, and personal challenges, to try and broker the relationship between organization and employee.

What is more, many of these situations have simply never been encountered before, as organizations face the reality of hybrid working, and struggle to strike the balance between controlling productivity as well as enabling autonomy, meaning, and connection. As our lives have invaded work, and views of people’s homes are frequently shared across virtual meeting rooms, boundaries have blurred and global challenges like sustaining well-being, managing ambiguity and disruption, and the rising costs of living, have seeped into daily conversations at work. It is perhaps no surprise that leaders are 43% more likely to say work is interfering with their ability to be happy in other areas of their lives.

And despite people managers being the glue binding people and businesses together, some organizations are questioning whether they are needed as business structures become flatter, work digitized, and teams more dispersed.


61% of managers report having more responsibilities at work since pre-pandemic times in multiple areas of their jobs and this is leading to burnout.

Manager skills are misunderstood

Often, organizations do not advertise managerial positions well and lack a robust process to identify individuals with the skill and will to take on these influential roles.

People who excelled in their individual contributor roles are often promoted to manage teams, based on a different set of capabilities and skills. In many cases, management responsibilities are presented as an ‘add-on’ to an existing role–“you are a good performer, can you keep doing what you are doing, and just manage these other eight people”. Individuals are thrust into positions of responsibility with little understanding of their appetite to do this or capability to deliver. It is no wonder so many companies are left lacking in people management capability.

On the other hand, strategic and charismatic elements of ‘leadership’ are pulled out as aspirational. Supposed ‘role-models’ in big organizations and governments have emerged, demonstrating ‘skills’ in winging-it–being under-prepared, lacking structure, often clumsy in their communication, and adopting questionable approaches to talent management and decision-making. As humans, we can overlook the perceived ‘boring’ and ‘dependable’ people managers who, particularly when managing teams of people, are more likely to deliver better results. Our romanticized view of a leader who has unlimited confidence, oozes charm, and whose hair-brained ideas are dressed-up as ‘flair’ or ‘instinct’, has limited our progress in this field.

As humans, we can overlook the perceived ‘boring’ and ‘dependable’ people managers who, particularly when managing teams of people, are more likely to deliver better results.

Time to upgrade manager selection

The manager skills and behaviors needed for success in management historically are very different to those today, and organizations must move fast to support, develop, and empower this group to enable business longevity.

It is time to properly define what makes a great people manager, to value and reward their contributions, provide them with the skills and tools to sustain and thrive, and celebrate those who can and want to be good at this highly skilled position.

Read more about finding and enabling great people managers in SHL’s latest guide: How to Identify Great People Managers in Today’s World of Work

headshot sarah mclellan


Sarah McLellan

Sarah is a business psychologist who spends her days seeking to understand and optimize the power of people to help individuals and organizations flourish. As Director of European Professional Services at SHL, she’s responsible for an international team who design talent solutions to help solve business challenges for hundreds of companies around the world. Sarah has been partnering with organizations for over 15 years, consulting across talent acquisition and talent management. She is passionate about optimizing the role people science can play in shaping the future of work.

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Bert Simonis

Bert is an occupational psychologist who is passionate about understanding how to unlock the power of talent in the work environment. In the last 18 years, he has helped global organizations implement talent solutions that drive business results forward. In his role at SHL as Head of Professional Services, Europe, he leads an international consulting team that supports organizations in shaping and optimizing of their talent strategy. As a guest lecturer at the University of Brussels, he also shares his passion for topics across talent attraction, selection, and development.

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