Line managers form arguably one of the most pivotal groups of people within an organisation. When employees feel positive about their relationship with their line managers, they are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty. These qualities are associated with higher levels of performance or discretionary behaviour.

Discretionary behaviour can be defined as that which goes beyond the requirements of the job to give that extra performance which can boost the bottom line.

A line manager needs to have the right people in the team, ensure they are engaged, committed and focused; and be able to motivate and retain performers. There are three core competencies that  line managers must possess and execute well to achieve this:

* Selecting the right talent;

*Managing performance; and

* Handling employee relations.

By acquiring these abilities and competencies, line managers become better positioned to achieve greater success in their roles.

However, line managers often have conflicting priorities and role overload. It is therefore essential for companies to provide their line managers with appropriate coaching and quick, effective, easy-to-implement tools and techniques to carry out these crucial people management activities.

Selecting the right talent 

In his book, Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap And Others Don’t, author Jim Collins points out: “The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

When choosing talent, consider these tips:

* Ask questions focused on getting information to satisfy three themes:

Can they do the job? (Competency)

Here the concern is with establishing that applicants have the required knowledge, skills and abilities.

Will they do the job? (Motivation)

This is about finding out why the applicant would leave his existing job and/or accept the job offer, how he has overcome barriers at work, shown initiative and made the extra effort when required.

Will they fit in? (Appropriateness)

This set of questions assesses the person for organisation/team fit. The applicant’s answers give insights into his personality and how it will impact on the team he will be joining. The line manager will look for evidence of values that the candidate shares with the organisation.

By asking these targeted questions, line managers can draw a comprehensive picture of each candidate, which will aid better hiring decisions.

* Utilise questioning techniques like behavioural-based interviewing (BBI) to elicit concrete evidence about the applicant’s past behaviour, specifically in relation to competence.

* Factor in all evaluations when making the hiring decision and do not base it on “gut feel” or “chemistry”. These may include results of tests or assessments, personality profiling or psychometric tests, interview feedback and recommendations of other interviewers, reference checks etc.

Managing performance

This goes beyond the annual performance review exercise. Line managers should be equipped to manage the entire performance management cycle. Here are three tips:

* Set challenging SMART goals

Performance planning is vital because it allows people to see exactly what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the goals of their team, their business area and the organisation as a whole.

They know that what they achieve will make a difference and that their role adds real value. This connection is a feature of a high-performance organisation and line managers can achieve it through effective performance planning.

* Encourage personal development

Focused development will enable staff to increase their effectiveness in the current role, and where appropriate, prepare for a future move.

Line mangers should help team members identify their development areas and support them as they put together a development plan. 

* Give feedback and coaching

Feedback and coaching should occur on an ongoing basis. Line managers should use their coaching and delivering feedback skills to constantly drive performance throughout the year.

Handling employee relations

In many organisations, line managers are advised on how to correct poor performance and instances of employee misconduct.

In handling employee relations, line managers should follow these three guidelines:

* Deal with performance level issues as soon as possible.

* Acquire the skills needed for handling conflict situations. Personal conflicts can be damaging and destructive unless managed with thought and care.

* Learn to communicate effectively when conducting informal meetings to handle grievances or to offer feedback.

Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that “excellence is an art brought about by training and habituation”. 

By training line managers in the key people-management skills and having in place ongoing coaching and support, effective and efficient tools and consistent monitoring and reviews, corporations can create a conducive environment for achieving excellence.