Touching Your People With Purpose

Josh Bersin on coaching your team in a distracted world

Posted May 15, 2018

Managing people is a tough gig and the vast majority of new managers come to the job ill prepared. We are a very individualistic society where being the star is celebrated and it’s the role of managers to wrangle these aspiring stars and coax them in the right direction. This wrangling and coaxing isn’t easy, particularly when you add-in the constant barrage of digital distraction.

"Josh Bersin and Dr. Woody"
Source: "Josh Bersin and Dr. Woody"

In a data driven world where access to information is easier than ever before we tend to forget about the human side of productivity. We aren’t robots and influencing others to take positive action requires tact, a skill that doesn’t always come naturally to young managers.

To get some perspective on this age-old challenge of managing people I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Josh Bersin, Founder and Principle of Bersin by Deloitte at the annual Limeade Engage conference.  

“I think for all of us who have ever become managers we have had to figure out how to be a coach, how to be a better listener, and how to understand why people are doing the things they do” explains Bersin. Managing is first about being human. You have to genuinely connect with people in order to effectively lead them. Bersin believes human beings still respond much more to psychological connection than they do anything else and, “That is the role of management. That’s why we have managers” Bersin explains.     

Bersin notes that “if we didn’t need managers, we wouldn’t have them.” The fact is we need managers and more importantly, we need to develop our managers. He points out that researchers have time and again come to the same conclusion: “Good managers are good coaches and good listeners.” The simple fact is that when, “managers aren’t coaching, listening, developing their people, and spending time understanding the dynamics of their team, they’re not performing.” Bersin shared some tips for developing managers based on his experience and research.

Encourage a Growth Mindset: One of the primary human motivators is growth. In an age where things are changing and evolving so quickly it is critical to have a growth mindset. Without constant growth you are doomed to get left behind.

Part of growth is reflection. “This idea of reflection and discussion of mistakes as opposed to punishing people for mistakes… is a very simple idea that is very often times lost on different businesses.  That can have an enormous impact on the performance of a company.” When you inspire people to learn and grow they will evolve and adjust their performance. 

Watch What You Measure: “If your company has a reward system that is based on your numbers, your performance, or your output, you may not think so much about the empowerment and development of your people,” Bersin notes. It becomes easy to chase that number and focus on the immediate mechanics of getting there as opposed to the long-term sustainability of the people who actually make those numbers happen. “You might sort of tighten down the screws and tend to be a tougher manager,” but that will only drive a short-term result,” says Berisn. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that production and output come from people and people aren’t machines.

If you want to consistently hit your numbers you must diligently work to continually develop your team members and measure the progress of their growth. Your people metrics may be better leading indicators of future performance than any current output number, so be sure to pay attention to what you pay attention to, measure and reward.      

Be a Consistent Role Model: If you didn’t have a good manager as a role model, you may not really know what it means to be a good manager explains Berisn. You may develop bad habits and not even realize it because you don’t have anyone who is comfortable enough to pull you aside and give you some outside perspective.

Management behavior is driven down from the top. Bersin points out that, “if senior leadership is behaving in a punitive way everybody will mimic it and it will get cascaded down the organization.” This is why senior leaders can’t just say the words, they have to live them. Bersin notes he has been in far too many HR meetings where the conversations revolve around promoting somebody who hits their numbers as opposed to promoting somebody who can develop others to hit their numbers. History has shown us star players rarely make great coaches, so focus on those with coaching potential and let your stars go out and be the stars.