The 5 Factors Making It Harder to Manage People Today—And What to Do About Them

Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something, but not usually for the reason that they are especially good at managing people. And once promoted, most new managers receive very little in the way of effective management training.

I know that for most people, being hands-on and highly engaged requires a fundamental rethinking of the manager’s role and the management relationship. Indeed, many people tell me, “Nobody has ever given me permission to manage, to be the boss.” At the same time, to many people, this probably sounds like common sense. Of course, managers need to manage!

But managing people in the real world is very, very difficult, and there are no easy solutions. Most managers are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something, but notusually for the reason that they are especially good at managing people.

Once promoted, most new managers receive very little in the way of effective management training. And the management books and training they do receive are dominated by the false empowerment approach. They rarely address the five powerful trends in the workplace today that are making it harder than ever to manage people:

1. The Pace of Work Is Increasing
The intensity, complexity, and pace of work is increasing—for everyone. Regardless of position or title, continuous improvement is now the norm. To maintain a competitive advantage, ongoing skill building and mastery is a requirement.

2. Hiring and Retention Challenges

Hiring and retention challenges mean most organizations are understaffed in key departments, placing additional pressure on employees and managers in those departments. Organizations that disproportionately rely on new, young employees are also more likely to struggle with skill training and wisdom transfer.

3. Fewer Layers of Management

As organizations have removed unnecessary layers of management, the managers who are left are responsible for larger and larger teams. There is an increased likelihood that managers are responsible for employees working in remote locations or on different schedules.

4. Constant Pressure to Improve Productivity and Quality
Managers are under more pressure to increase productivity and quality from their teams. Today, that means getting more work out of fewer employees, while utilizing fewer resources.

5. Increased Interdependency
More work is handled in interdependent working relationships and cross-functional teams. Managers and their employees are responsible for managing more relationships and moving parts than ever before. Most employees are answering to short-term project leaders in addition to their primary manager.

The question is, how are managers supposed to keep up with these difficult challenges? At first glance, it may appear that these factors are entirely out of any individual leader’s control. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that strong, highly engaged management is the key to successfully navigating these challenges:

1. Increased Pace Doesn’t Have to Equal Confusion

A highly engaged manager is all over the details, every step of the way. That means when the pressure is on, no time is wasted getting up to speed or giving redundant directives that ultimately slow down a project. 

2. More Effective Onboarding and Increased Retention

Employees today understand more than ever that in order to succeed at work, and, therefore, earn more for themselves and their families, they must rely on their boss more than anyone else. That means their boss must be someone who is dedicated to setting them up for success and finding opportunities for them to improve from day one, and every day after that. Highly engaged leaders can provide the amount of support, guidance, direction, and support necessary to get new hires up to speed quickly and retain them in the long term.

3. Better Delegation

Fewer layers of management means more work for each individual manager, and that almost always means that effective delegation down the chain of command is necessary. Managers who engage in high-structure, high-substance, ongoing one-on-one communication with their direct reports know how to communicate and ask the right questions when delegating new tasks. Those managers also know how to course-correct along the way as needed, so no time is wasted doing the task incorrectly.

4. Constant Improvement Is the New Normal

To make constant improvement the new normal, rather than the cause of burnout, managers must find the right way to get employees involved in their own self-directed learning initiatives. Of course, self-directed doesn’t mean self-evaluated, and it’s up to the manager to make sure self-directed learning is both relevant and effective. This can only happen if the manager is engaged enough to know each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as to define the concrete outcomes that signal real improvement.

5. Structured Communication Leaves Less Room for Error in Interdependent Work

The biggest downside of increased interdependency is that there is also an increased chance of error. The more people involved in any one project, the easier it is for information to get lost along the way or slip through the cracks. It is up to the manager to know what his or her teams need from other teams or departments, and it is also up to the manager to coordinate those resources if a direct report cannot do so on his or her own.

In nearly every one of the thousands of cases I’ve studied, there is a straightforward solution: a commitment to learning and practicing the fundamentals of leadership. That means regularly scheduled, high-substance, high-structure one-on-one meetings between managers and their direct reports, so leaders can stay on top of what’s happening and help their employees plan and prioritize for the best outcome. 

Is undermanagement affecting your organization? Learn more about identifying and preventing the vicious cycle of undermanagement in my latest white paper: The Undermanagement Epidemic Report 2019.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,





Bruce Tulgan is a best-selling author and CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting, and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. His newest book, “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work: Win Influence, Beat Overcommitment, and Get the Right Things Done”( Harvard Business Review Press) is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major booksellers. Follow Tulgan on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his Website at: