Topic 9: Managing people

Topic 9: Managing people

Topic 9: Managing people

Learning outcomes This topic will get you started on your way to achieving these learning outcomes in the subject: critically analyse and evaluate a variety of management and organisational theories and practices in the context of the contemporary business environment; reflect critically on management issues such as ethics, sustainability, innovation and digital disruption and how they are shaping 21st century organisations.

Hands, hearts and minds

In this topic, we look into the role of the manager in working with people. Imagine you are a middle manager or a senior manager. Your role includes managing x number of people (it might be 5 or 50, or more; in a small group or an entire department; in one location, or across several locations; in one occupational area, or multiple; one mode of employment or several). There are so many variables to consider when it comes to working with people, and it is rare that one solution fits everyone.

What do you need to know and be able to do? As we have come to appreciate, in VUCA world there are few places where standard answers apply. What might work in one situation, or at one point in time, may be defective or redundant at another. Rather than give you tidy solutions, we provide some practical frameworks and tools that you can apply, with critical thought, to the task of working with people.



Just a minute podcast Click on the podcast below for a quick overview of the topic.

Managing the talent base is, arguably, one of the most challenging parts of a manager’s job in any organisation. In a VUCA environment it is not surprising that CEOs worldwide see human capital management as the number one challenge that they face. Would you agree with this?

A recent survey of over 800 CEOs, agency heads and HR executives conducted by the Australian HR Institute found that most organisations are challenged by new and increasing competition from low cost, internet based business models that are commoditising many products and services. This is making it imperative for organisations to adapt faster and reduce costs to become more competitive. Organisations are rethinking how they will differentiate themselves, add extra value and build sustainable business models that will weather the storm. In this world, people make the difference to the success or failure of strategic aspirations, whether it be innovation or contributing to sustainable development.

To achieve these learning outcomes, we will be looking at three key points:

  1. What is the scope of the manager’s task in working with people in the context of VUCA world?
  2. What practical framework can we use to think through the implications of some of the GREAT BIG challenges that face our organisations when it comes to working with people?
  3. What is a tool that can be used to gain a better understanding of our people?

(Accessible version of elevator pitch in Word)

This elevator pitch is just one example of conflicting values and positions that managers need to deal with almost everyday. When it comes to working with people, it is a rare manager who will be able to avoid having to make informed, critically thought-through choices about which way to go in dealing with an issue such as this.

Learning activity 1 Whether you are new to management or a more seasoned manager, it is not difficult to think of examples of conflicting values and choices that need to be made in working with people. You have seen one example in the elevator pitch. What are some other examples?

Let’s look at a practical situation that further illustrates the kinds of dilemmas that managers face; this time, in a global environment.

Case of the week: Fryer, B., Milkovich, G. T., Thinnes, J. A., Yaffe, J., & Kokott, D. (2003). In a world of pay. Harvard Business Review, 81(11), 31-40. ‘MGT501 Topic 9 Managing people’ (YouTube) | https://youtu.be/KDfvESEESUI This case centres on a compensation offer that is being considered for recruiting a high flyer to join Typware AG, a global software organisation. This kind of situation is fairly commonplace today in a world where the talent base on offer is global, not just local. The case is relevant to the GREAT BIG challenge of global management. What management problems do you believe are confronting Renate Schmidt regarding the compensation offer that Typware should make? We will return to this case later, after exploring parts of the knowledge base surrounding the management of people.

9.1 The scope of the manager’s task in working with people in the context of VUCA world


Read Kramar, Bartram, DeCieri, Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, Wright (2014). Human resource management in Australia – Strategy, people, performance (5th ed.). pp 6-12, North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

This reading has several key pieces of knowledge to introduce you to the world of working with people. Firstly, the scope of your task as a manager is broad. Working with people involves goal-directed action in the following areas of practice:

Figure 9.1: Strategic human resource management


Not all of these practices will be equally important. Their importance will vary according to the specific context in which you’re working. Depending on the size of the organisation, the policies and systems in each area of practice may be designed by specialist HR professionals. In other cases, you will be developing the requisite policies and systems, perhaps with the aid of specialist help.

Secondly, the approach that you take to any of these practices will be shaped by a theory-in-use; that is, the way you think about the contributions that people make to the work of your organisation. Notice the three theories discussed in the reading:

  • the behavioural perspective – which identifies specific behaviours associated with particular types of business strategy
  • the best practice perspective – in which universal best practices can be applied, regardless of strategy or culture
  • the resource-based perspective – where the specifics of how to manage people are derived from the capabilities that your organisation must develop to accomplish its goals.

9.2 A practical framework to use in working with people


A third point to take away from the reading is the Harvard analytical framework.

Figure 9.2: Harvard analytical framework

This framework is very useful in a VUCA environment, because it gives you a way to think about and understand the appropriate people responses in a given situation – your situation. As explained further in the reading, the choices we make in working with people are informed by the outcomes we seek to achieve, the business environments we are facing and the interests of stakeholders.

Complicated? Yes, it is. The key point to understand in this framework is that there isn’t a formula – there is a framework, and you need to apply this in a critical way when thinking about how best to work with your people.

Learning activity 2 As you know, the business environment of an organisation has a direct impact on the way it should be thinking about managing people. So, from a human capital perspective, what are the forces and trends that any organisation must take into account? For example, one factor is the composition of the internal and external labour force. What else?

Notice that one of the important situational factors in the diagram above is management philosophy. This brings in the values that managers hold about how people should be treated. These values will become embedded in the culture, attitudes and finally, in behaviour. Let’s not underestimate the power of values in working with people.

If you think about the three theories-in-use that are discussed in the reading by Kramar et al. – behavioural, best practice, and resource-based – can you see how the values held by managers play a part in shaping the theory that is applied?

Learning activity 3 This is an important insight to get. We are saying here that there is a relationship, a connection, between management values and the theory-in-use that is applied to working with people. This, in turn, will shape attitudes and behaviours. For example, the capabilities that a major hotel will need to develop are shaped by the business environment, absolutely. But, they are also shaped by the values that managers believe are important in treating people. How? Explore this taking the example of a major hotel. How would the values of managers shape the theory-in-use that they apply? If you as a guest wanted to observe the management values in operation at a major hotel, where would you look?

Can you see how the values that managers bring to their roles will shape what they do and how they will treat people? As we know from a previous topic, values are a deeply ingrained element of an organisation’s culture.

To shed some further light, the next reading examines the connection between culture and employee motivation. As you can see from the diagram below relating to the airline industry (taken from this reading), culture matters in a big way in shaping performance.

Figure 9.3: Airlines – Customer satifaction rating (0-100)

So, to repeat: there is a connection between managers’ values, the culture, the theory-in-use that managers apply, and the way they actually manage people. And this connection has a direct impact on performance.

Read McGregor, L., & Doshi, N. (2015). How company culture affects employee motivationHarvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2-9.
Case discussion activity: In a world of pay Using the knowledge that you have gained from the topic and other resources that you locate, answer the following questions: What conflicting values are evident in this case? What advice would you give Renate Schmidt about a way forward that resolves the values conflict? What management competencies do you believe this case highlights that are important for the 21st century leader-manager in VUCA world?

9.3 Tools to gain a better understanding of your people


How can you gain a reliable insight into what motivates your people – and what motivates you? This is an indication of the values that are important. Motivators drive our behaviour, whether we are aware of this or not. So, what is important to you about the work that you do (or will be doing) in management? The answer to this question begins with understanding yourself – your motivators and your values.

For some people, management is just a job. We spend upwards of 70% of our lives at work. Therefore, for many people, work is an important channel for creating meaning, for making a difference in their worlds. Perhaps most of us have at least some level of motivation to make a difference.

The diagram below is taken from a self-perception tool called Motivational Mapping. It is a practical tool that can be used to reflect on our motivators. The tool is used by qualified practitioners in career coaching, career transition coaching, and in building performance and happiness at work. The diagram shows nine motivators that drive our behaviours. Most people will have two or three of these as their primary motivators.

Figure 9.4: Primary motivators
Source: http://www.motivationalmaps.com/Resources/Example_Individual_Report.pdf

In this diagram, the nine motivators can be grouped into three clusters – relationship, achievement and growth. People with a strong searcher motivator will strive to make difference through their work. On the other hand, people with strong relationship motivators may well want to make a difference, but they are motivated primarily by security, or having positive and satisfying relationships at work or being recognised for the contribution that they make. Most people will have two or three motivators that are highly important in shaping their performance, behaviour and satisfaction.

Learning activity 4 Use the diagram above to reflect on your top three motivators. Perhaps allocate points out of 100 to each one. For example: Searcher (60%), Spirit (40%) and Friend (40%). To help you think this through, consider specific examples of things that you enjoy doing, or work tasks that you believe you do well. What do these motivators tell you about the values that are important to you? Do you think that there are certain motivators that are important for successful or effective managers?

As we have seen in an earlier topic, the things we do in management – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are shaped by our motivators (the ‘why’). This is because our motivators are like windows into the values that are important to us.

Topic 9 has given you a taste of aspects of the manager’s role in working with people. This is not an easy area to work in; yet, in VUCA world, it is a crucial capability to develop.

You’ll be able to learn much more about managing people in the CSU subjects, HRM502 Human Resource Management and HRM528 Strategic Human Resource Management.

In the next topic we turn to another management practice that is critical for strategy execution – organisation design.

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