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QCon London: the Dangerous Dichotomies of People Management

In the world of people management, it's not just about ticking off tasks; it's about delving into the nuanced, impactful aspects that truly make a difference. Experienced manager and product director Hannah Foxwell highlighted many critical yet often overlooked elements for fostering a cohesive and productive team environment in a talk at QCon London 2024.

Collaborative Leadership: Foxwell explains how we often don't see multiple managers working together as a cohesive, unified team. This fragmentation can lead to friction, politics and conflicting priorities; hindering productivity. Leaders should prioritize building trust among their peers; otherwise, they will have problems with delivery.

"Treating everyone the same is impossible because we are all gloriously different."

Performance management: Foxwell recommends rewarding people based on their impact and potential. Performance and expectation management should not be an annual ceremony but something that is dealt with on a continual basis. During reviews, it's easy to focus on weaknesses, but Foxwell advises that weaknesses may actually be manifestations of people's strengths, the things that make them stand out from the crowd—and it's best to work with that. She advised building a plan that plays to people's strengths -- figuring out who they are and helping them to do more of that.

Pay and promotion reviews: During pay and promotion reviews, it's important to implement a collaborative process with your management peers to ensure consistency in expectations and levelling. Foxwell explained that when resolving inequality and bias, you may need to correct previous inequalities if there are underpaid team members. It's also valuable to "balance the budgets" across teams because talent and potential rarely disperse themselves equally across the organisation, and Hannah stresses the need for transparency in budget allocation and promotion opportunities between managers.

"Don't take a vegan engineer to the best steakhouse in town."

Inclusive Team Building: Traditional evening team-building activities may inadvertently exclude non-drinkers, parents, carers or those with different dietary preferences. Foxwell advocates for inclusive and accessible events during working hours, ensuring everyone feels welcome and valued. Creating unstructured social time allows for organic bonding among team members, and this setup also works well in the work environment.

"Be really mindful of the right opportunity for the right person at that time."

Equity in Opportunities: Foxwell consistently highlighted the difference between equality and equity. Seeking to treat everyone the same does not necessarily set everyone up to succeed. Addressing systemic inequalities and the changing needs of individuals is crucial. Tailoring management styles to individual needs, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship, all play vital roles in fostering growth and equality in the workplace.

"Women become over-mentored and under-sponsored when striving for equality"

Navigating Challenges: Managers must help navigate tricky situations, from organizational changes to personal struggles. Being present, authentic, and empathetic during difficult times fosters trust and resilience within the team. Establishing open communication channels and encouraging flexibility and kindness promote a supportive work environment.

"As a manager, your words have a lot more impact on your team, so be mindful of bleeding your own stress and anxiety into your team."

Dealing with bad news: Foxwell discussed a scenario in which a reorganization, acquisition, or announcement of redundancies may affect the team. She advises managers to create a space where the team can be together on those very bad days (either physically or virtually) and talk about everyone's feelings. Perhaps this day is not one to "keep calm and carry on", and an "anxiety party" is what's needed instead. Foxwell advises being authentic and honest about what's known and unknown, which can be difficult as a manager when you don't have answers. Discourage gossiping and catastrophizing to help the team through the bad news.

Intentional Power Dynamics: It is vital to recognize and responsibly leverage managerial power. Foxwell encourages managers to take proactive steps to address issues, similar to fixing a leaky pipe, rather than passively observing. By making deliberate decisions and leading by example, managers can foster a culture of accountability and empowerment.

"How can we be intentional with the power that we have as managers?"

In summary, Foxwell explained how effective people management extends beyond mere task delegation. It requires empathy, inclusivity, and a commitment to fostering growth and equity within the team. Through Foxwell's insights and strategies, leaders can navigate the complexities of modern workplaces and cultivate environments where everyone can thrive.

Access recorded QCon London talks with a Video-Only Pass.

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