Developing Great People Managers

What it takes to transform managers into productive, capable, high-performance people leaders.

In my research into what makes a great people manager, I asked employees this question: “What is the most important thing you want from your immediate manager?”

Since I was searching for a universal answer, I gathered responses from 80,000 employees in 27 different countries around the world, whose economies represent 85 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. The “voice of the employee” results regarding what they prefer in a manager categorizes into five behaviors, one skill, and two values.


1. Show support and understanding. This pertains to being accessible, helpful, a good listener and considerate of others. Employees want managers to get to know them, understand their work context (what helps and hinders the work), and defend them when warranted against unjust criticism.

2. Treat employees with dignity and respect. This means first that employees want their managers to presume they are there to do a good job and to make a positive impact. But employees also want managers to seek their input on decisions affecting their work and demonstrate concern for both their physical and psychological welfare.

3. Communicate clear performance expectations. Employees need managers to define what successful job performance looks like, make sure they set and regularly review the priorities— especially for knowledge workers who are juggling multiple tasks—and provide helpful feedback to guide employees to the desired outcome.

4. Provide recognition. This is about providing psychological appreciation for a job well done. It is important to employees that they are given due credit for their good ideas and contributions. Employees also want to be recognized for their loyalty to their job and employer.

5. Reward performance contributions. Employees realize that managers may have limited influence over merit increase budgets, but they do expect their managers to do their best to ensure they are compensated fairly. They also want their managers to be involved in supporting their growth through training and development opportunities.


Problem-solving and decision-making. This is labeled as a skill because employees emphatically stated that they want their managers to be good at making decisions and creating solutions to work-place problems. They want managers to make informed, data-based decisions and involve them, when possible, in decisions affecting their work.


1.Be fair and just. Employees want their managers to be objective, consistent, and equitable in their treatment of employees. This implies that managers will enforce work rules equally, show the same flexibility to all employees, adjust workloads to offset extra demands, and follow ethical guidelines.

2.Be honest and trustworthy. This is about managers being forthright, transparent, sincere, and truthful in their interactions with employees. Employees want managers to take their jobs seriously, follow through on their responsibilities, and admit when they are wrong. They also don’t want managers acting as if they are above the rules.


My research indicates that most managers achieve only about 70 percent or less of their potential in displaying these critical attributes. But the managers who reach their full potential realize outsized gains in employee experience and engagement, as well as team cohesion and performance.

Organizations that reinforce an employee-centric approach to people management through their management training and development systems excel in employee motivation, commitment, and performance. The resulting workforce engagement is not merely a correlation of organizational performance. Rather, science reveals it to be a dependable leading indicator. And employee-centric managers are an essential ingredient in creating workforce engagement.

Jack Wiley
Jack Wiley, Ph.D., is the author of “The Employee-Centric Manager” (2021), “RESPECT” (2012), and “Strategic Employee Surveys” (2010). Dr. Wiley is president and CEO of Employee Centricity LLC and Jack Wiley Consulting, LLC; he also serves as the chief scientific officer at Engage2Excel. E-mail him at: or visit: