The most important decision a company makes is who to hire.
The second most important decision a company makes is who to promote.
Companies make hundreds of decisions every day, with many of those decisions having huge consequences on the company’s performance and even existence. Of all the decisions an organization makes, though, the people chosen to manage others has the widest impact.
We’re not going to tackle the “who to hire” question here, at least not today. But I recently observed a manager/employee interaction that reminded me of the most important quality in choosing who to promote into management – they must be a “people person”.
I recently stopped by a Chick-fil-A restaurant during a business trip and after settling into a table with my chicken nuggets, waffle fries, and a Cookies ‘n Cream milkshake, I spent the next hour alternating between a little computer work and people watching.
At one point, a young woman entered the restaurant and immediately the workers behind the counter surrounded her with smiles, hugs, and small screams of joy. Obviously, this person either worked there or had recently enjoyed a great Chick-fil-A career. One employee after another walked up to this young lady and then shared a little story and a little laughter. I don’t know what position this person held, but she was clearly well-liked and popular with all of the other workers.
With the exception of perhaps one employee. After a few minutes of “family reunion” greetings, a black-shirted manager walked out from the kitchen, around the counter, and into the dining area. As he passed this small gathering of happy co-workers, the manager said, “How are you, Katie?” No smile. No emotion. And no stopping – he simply headed toward the dining room.
Katie replied, “Hi, David. I’m good. And I’m pregnant.” With zero emotion, David just nodded his head and continued into the dining room. Katie, along with her small entourage, was left with a look of puzzlement on her face.
Or was it a look of, “there he goes again – the worst boss in the world”?
Yes, the restaurant was busy – customers needed to be served and tables needed to be cleaned. But too busy to stop for 30 seconds, connect on a personal level by looking directly at each other, and offering a hearty, “Congratulations!”?
Admittedly, I don’t know any of the backstory here. Was David simply having a bad day? Was he sick? Had David and Katie been a couple at one point? There could be numerous reasons for David’s response.
However, after observing David’s interaction with other employees and even customers, I’m left to think he simply wasn’t a people person. And I’m convinced that being a people person is the number one requirement of being a people manager.
Managers, particularly frontline managers, are the key ingredient for team success and employee engagement. So why do organizations promote people into a management position who lack interpersonal skills? Not past experience. Not length of service. And not job knowledge. While these qualities should certainly be considered, if someone is unable to relate to others, show empathy, and connect on a real, personal level, how can they possibly be an effective manager?
In other words, if you want to manage people, you need to like people . . . and be likable.
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.