How Do You Learn to Manage People?

We’ve taken an interest in people managers since the beginning of the pandemic. Because as we supported different experiences across companies, we quickly saw the pressure point was people managers. And we wrote and coached about how to handle worry, loss, loneliness…. and inconsistencies in work. That order was the priority during the pandemic as managers were told to “look after people” first.

Then, we saw the “return to work” phase, as managers had to pivot to manage the work versus managing the people. Some stepped in and took it on themselves so they could look after people and look after work when the two were in conflict with each other.

And now with company plans firmly in place, people managers are expected to be firmer in managing people. In the last two years, people managers have come full circle with giving feedback, reviews and sometimes performance ratings that communicate less flexibility and more expectation. And through it all, new pain points for people managers have emerged.
Anecdotally, we set out to learn a few things from both perspectives: the managers themselves and the people being managed. And we came away with interesting insights.

When people managers were asked to rate themselves in terms of effectiveness, (scale of 1-5; 1=poor and 5=outstanding), the average was a 3.5. Some were threes and some were fours, but everyone we talked to considered themselves average or a little above.

But when we asked for the same rating of effectiveness from people who are managed, the swing was much greater. Some employees rated their manager a five, and some rated their manager a one. And the wide discrepancy led to another realization. The people managers who were rated the highest had been managing people for more than 10 years. And those who were rated very low started managing people during the last five years.

Our hypothesis became: your skill set at managing people has a lot to do with when you became a people manager.

People managers with a lot of experience under their belt now say the pandemic chaos was an anomaly. As their companies reset, they reset their management skills to conversation guidelines, feedback processes and team expectations that they learned to do a while ago. They have a toolkit that needs some refinement, but they find the fundamentals of managing people to be the same.

People managers who took on teams in the last five years see their role as inconsistent, and their experience has only been the frenetic shifts described above. Many say they aren’t confident being a people manager, and they don’t feel that they have much of a toolkit to guide them. They’ve been handed a new playbook every year and the guidance swings from “anything goes” to “enforce expectations” with smaller pivots in between.

If you ask the more experienced managers how they developed management skills, they all say their skills evolved over time and they learned by watching others and asking others for guidance.

That wasn’t a model that was sustainable during remote work and high-stress situations. So, it’s little wonder that newer managers feel they didn’t get the same guidance or support. And it’s why we’ve taken an interest in helping these younger managers feel more confident in the tools and their skills in managing people.

Work situations are different today, and both experienced and inexperienced managers told us that they find feedback conversations to be challenging.

Today, they’re managing a false sense of confidence from young employees, a stronger demand for personal preference and exceptions, and a concern that every conversation will be a negotiation. They brace for resistance and feel good when they can avoid conflict.

The seasoned managers have a better perspective on assessing behaviors and showing empathy without trading off work.

So while all managers feel they’re being tested by some of their employees, the more experienced managers have “seen things before” and feel more confident in their ability to work things out and get to resolution.

And interestingly, employees see the difference. When we asked those who rated a manager low what skills the manager needed, they say managers need to set clear goals and hold people accountable. They want constructive feedback, and they want to advance in their careers. But they admit they’re impatient about it and often feel the younger manager is in the way of their advancement rather than supporting their path.

The pain points were easy to identify with young managers and their teams. But as we’ve prioritized this development need, we’ve also talked to HR leaders to be sure we’re aligned on what the gap actually is.

And it has multiple components.

Guidelines for Hybrid Work – All managers need a reset on dealing with the blurred lines created by a new way of work. Every company has a return to work strategy, but in most cases, the strategy is different enough that managing people in a hybrid setting is still a development need.

Manager Network – Young managers can’t evolve over time as their predecessors did. In fact, many of their role models are no longer in the workforce to mentor them. The early retirement and remote work of seasoned managers has created a gap in companies. And managers need a structured network and sounding board to support each other.

Manager Toolkit & Tools – While they may have some tools, they want training that brings all the tools together. They don’t have time to find different pieces. They want the best practices for feedback and crucial conversations and guidance on applying them to their situations.

Brand & Confidence – Open dialogs have led to direct feedback from their teams. Sometimes charged with emotion, and sometimes just deflating. But demanding employees can erode a manager’s confidence, and they want to understand how their brand is perceived and how to hold their own in a tough conversation.

We’ve taken an interest in people managers because we know how critical they are in companies, and we hear the pain as we talk to them in workshops and coaching sessions. While it’s no one’s fault that the gap developed, it will be everyone’s problem if young managers don’t gain confidence in their ability to manage.

And that’s why we’ve developed a program that focuses on the components above. We’re talking to companies about how to leverage it and how to tailor it to the needs of their managers. And if you’re experiencing similar challenges, we’d welcome a chance to talk to you as well.


Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates


Why is it that the best communicators fall flat when put in a studio to produce a video?

The seasoned communicators who’ve tried it will tell you it’s because it’s too scripted. They prefer a more informal and conversational approach. Or they say, it’s too constricted.  They believe their energy comes from movement, and they want to move around like they would on a stage.

And while both the tighter content and the limited movement are concepts that take adjustment, the biggest difference that communicators struggle with is the lack of an audience.

It’s ironic because when you ask communicators in other settings what makes them nervous or throws off their focus, the common issue is the audience. “The group was bigger than I expected, I didn’t know a senior leader would be there, or they weren’t as interested in my topic as I was told.” If you find the audience to be a challenge as a communicator, you’ll find the lack of one makes video production even harder.

Ask anyone who’s produced a lot of videos and they’ll tell you: the hardest part of video is understanding how to lead a one-sided conversation as if it were a two-sided one. And essentially, that’s what changes the most.

For years, we’ve guided our executive coaching clients to get comfortable with video as a medium. But we couldn’t have predicted how quickly it would take hold as different ways of work evolved, and leaders weren’t in front of employees as frequently. Today, more than 50% of internal communications is done via video. And by video, I don’t mean live communication that’s hosted on a virtual platform. I’m referring to taped communication that is produced for sound bites, promotion and engagement on topics.

And it’s not just leaders who are using it. Video has become an easy way to get information out in a short format. Companies are adding studios to their offices, and they’re creating pre-taped messages to support most internal initiatives. The only piece missing are communicators who are effective with the format.

That’s because it’s different enough that skills don’t easily adapt to it. Communicators need some help translating and adapting what they know about energy and engagement to the new format.

In fact, whether you’re the coach or the coachee working on a video format, it’s important to make sure the skill set of the communicator starts with an understanding of intent more than technique.

Too often, people who coach communicators give tips and techniques that mask poor habits rather than working through them.

And when a communicator tries to translate those techniques to a different setting, it seldom works because the old habit is still there.

Across all settings, our focus always begins by talking to a communicator about their toolkit. Every communicator has the same one: their body, their voice and the listener. The tools don’t change across settings; a communicator’s understanding of how to leverage them does.

So how do you coach a communicator to be impactful through video?

First, you talk about scripts. Some communicators have learned to use teleprompters for keynotes and large stage events. In this setting, they can use headlines and short-form bullets as an outline. But when producing video, the content has to be much tighter. Videos have 2-3 minutes to be compelling and succinct. It’s sound bites, it’s phrases – and it’s always scripted. The conversational tone most communicators want to convey comes through in style, not content. Coaching someone to read a script in a conversational way is step one.

Second, you focus on the body. Video requires a more settled presence. Movement is distracting. Some people like to stand to get involved in what they’re saying, but most people do their best seated on a stool. Either way, the goal is to get someone forward toward the camera. Coaching focuses on helping a communicator feel settled and involved at the same time.

The third coaching area is the voice. Video requires someone to be able to land a point and create energy through effort behind the voice. Foundational skills translate easily to video in terms of articulation and projection. The harder coaching concepts are landing a point and putting emotion behind words and phrases.

And that leads to the missing element: the audience. Communicators leverage energy and engagement back and forth with listeners in other settings and when it isn’t there, their own energy drops quickly. Unfortunately, it’s easy to spot. Someone who doesn’t know how to connect through video will look as if they’re staring. The eyes become hard, and it’s easy to see them reading the script.  That’s less about reading and more about keeping expression active in communication.

If you’ve worked with SW&A on presence and style, you know the answer. Connection is less about looking at someone and more about drawing response from someone. Again, it’s the intent of connecting with someone and less the technique of eye contact.

When we coach someone how to engage with a listener, we illustrate the two-way interaction of connection. And if you understand the essence of connection, you can translate it to video. It is the concept of leading a one-sided conversation as if it were a two-sided one. You have to work for emotion, you have to work for response – even though you won’t get it. What you will get is expression through the communicator’s eyes and face. And that’s what makes video feel as if a communicator is talking directly to a listener.

Video is a powerful medium when it’s done well. And it’s a frustrating one when seasoned communicators don’t know how to execute it.

We can help!

SW&A coaches communicators to connect through video in 1:1 coaching and group workshops. And we can ensure that when the lights and cameras come on, there will be great energy on your side of the lens.

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

LEADING THROUGH VIDEO:An Essential Tool for Remote Working

Chances are you’ve been the “star” of a few corporate videos. It’s a good medium for communicators because it’s short and to the point. Video makes messaging easy to access and available 24/7.

When we became a virtual workforce overnight, many leaders were nudged toward it as the only communication channel. And if your instinct was to leverage it, it was a good instinct.  More than anything you can say to employees over a conference call or in an email, you can express it better if they can see your face. It’s not a time for wordsmithing as much as it is a time for sharing emotion. Employees need to see confidence, calmness and warmth.

So, if you’ve jumped fully into video, it’s the right channel. But it introduces some unique challenges for leaders who aren’t great at it and may now be producing videos without much support.

Here are our best practices to consider.



Frame the Shot: Everyone says the shots should be informal, and leaders should let employees see them at home. My guidance is: yes and no. Yes, be honest and real about working from home. Try to match the culture of your company. But, be mindful that you are still leading, so seeing a bed in the background or chaos in a kitchen distracts from that impression. The shot can be as informal as you want it to be; just be sure it’s intentional.

You can also frame the shot around something personal that helps you build a story or share a little more of yourself. It’s been fun in the last few weeks helping leaders add a little energy to these videos. Some have picked songs that are reflective of their days; others have shared something happening in their households. Depending on the message of your video, a little humanity and little moments can keep someone connected to the team.

Pick the Setting: The best video shot is framed in a setting. It can be any setting, but it should be a setting. You can be framed by a bookcase behind you or a picture behind you. Think about putting yourself in a picture frame and take a few pictures so that you can test the setting before taping.

We’ve seen several videos taken outside as Spring settles in, and yards seem bright and colorful. If cheerful and uplifting is part of your message, the setting can help. Some messages aren’t as light today, and you should be sensitive to settings in your home or surroundings that express more about economic means than you may want to. A video is captured forever, and things you don’t notice because they are a part of your life are quickly noticed by others.

Leverage Equipment: Based on social distancing, many leaders are having to produce the videos themselves. You can do a few simple things to make a video a little more interesting. Great videos are shot with multiple cameras to allow for editing in different views. This keeps movement in a video which keeps the attention of the viewer. You can‘t bring in a camera crew today, but you can produce two different views if you have someone who can edit remotely. We’ve done this with two iPads focused on two different shots: close-up and further away. Keep in mind that all shots are best if aimed straight on shot with a slight down view on the communicator. Avoid a camera shot that is lower or looks up at a communicator.



Plan the Content: Leaders always say they want to be conversational on videos. It’s the right idea, but it’s hard to execute on video. Unscripted tapings which were meant to be conversational usually sound like rambling. The informal approach to talking to a group in a live setting has to be more scripted via video. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s not.

As viewers, we expect videos to be short and to the point. You need a tight outline or a script to get to succinct thoughts that capture a viewer’s attention. Make it easy for viewers to stay with you for two to three minutes. The conversational approach actually comes through more in your tone and expression than your words. And that’s one of the hardest things to do over video.

Plan the Connection: The reason that tone and expression are hard via video is that there’s actually no one on the other side of the conversation. The communicator doesn’t have a listener, and that missing component has tough side effects for a communicator. When you aren’t talking to someone, bad habits creep in. Many communicators will stay in their head thinking about the talk track. The face becomes void of expression and the eyes seem harder as if someone is staring ahead versus talking with someone.

This is one of the hardest skills to develop. You can learn to simulate connection and bring expression into a video with a listener, but it takes work.  In these unprecedented times, the easier approach may be to put a listener on the other side of the camera. Kids can do this; spouses can do this. It helps immensely to have someone listening to you.

Talk to the Camera: The live listener will also help you with focus. When you tape a video, you need to keep your focus toward the camera. It seems counter intuitive because connection usually moves around a room to pull in different listeners. With video, there is only one listener represented by the camera. Your focus and engagement are all toward the camera so that viewers feel that you’re talking to them versus looking away from them.

Stand or Sit: When we produce videos, I prefer to have someone sit on a stool. We coach the concept of forward intent, and it’s harder via video than it is in person. The reason is that video is more two dimensional than three, so the concept of forwardness has to be more exaggerated on video. And it’s easiest to do on a high stool without a back. This prevents leaning back and allows someone to get their feet off the floor and onto the rungs of the stool. This way, you’ll sit back and lean forward.

Video is a different medium for leaders and a very effective way to connect with employees right now. If you’re producing videos, we can help. Call us for a virtual rehearsal, and we’ll help you put the steps above in place.  And if you aren’t producing videos but you’re leveraging video for team meetings and customer calls, we’ll soon be sharing our best practices for video meetings.

We’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson