business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

With all the current challenges in business, it’s hard to believe that anything is a larger concern than the labor market and the ever-increasing problems of finding and retaining good personnel. The problem probably seems nearly unapproachable to many operators who are desperate to find anyone at this point.

But a key step in managing this problem starts with the recognition that your current staffers most likely leave because of their direct supervisors. The best way to combat the current shortage is to retain those folks you already have.

With that in mind, it’s worth reading a recent article from Fast Company on the key skills new managers (and, let’s face it, all managers) need to develop to succeed. Luckily, not one of the skills is impossible to achieve, but they all require focus and the Fast Company article should be required reading.

The first of the four skills is probably the one that needs addressing right now: have openness to learning. As Fast Company states (and I can admit to this weakness in my career) most managers really don’t know how to manage. The skills required are completely different than the skills that got you promoted in the first place. 

Simply put, we all get promoted for being good at tasks and suddenly we’re asked to be good at managing others.  The problem is that there’s not a straight line connection from the former to the latter. Companies can enable this skill by offering courses or mentorship, but new managers can help themselves by reading one of the thousands of managerial books or by taking on line courses. 

Next, managers need to develop a great sense of empathy.  That doesn’t mean you are responsible for all the happiness in your subordinates’ lives. But caring about your staffers can help create a positive workplace, which in turn can lead to better performance. Let’s face it, everyone is stressed right now so you are pretty much guaranteed that a little empathy will be appreciated and might go a long way.

Managers also need learn how to give feedback, both good and bad. The skill is especially important when it comes to giving negative feedback and doing so in a way that leads to understanding and improvement. 

Like many people, I both received and gave performance reviews and quite honestly I hated the process and probably did it badly for most of my career. Luckily, I had a co-worker at one point who was a master of performance reviews, making them factual, clear and free of emotion. Watching him I learned how to better discuss even the most difficult of situations in a way that could lead to improvement, so I fully believe this is a skill that can be taught.

Here again, companies need take time to train new managers in how to give feedback in constructive ways. Hopefully there is someone in your company who is actually good at this and should be put in charge of this piece of mentoring.

Fourth, managers must learn how to handle pushback, something else that is guaranteed to happen. Managers, especially new ones, are going to be challenged on their decisions and have to learn how to welcome and deal with that feedback because it should help lead to better decisions. Getting defensive leads nowhere.

I know from personal experience that managing people takes much more than these four steps, but all four should be viewed as essential tools to help managers at all levels improve their skills and the performance of their teams. With luck, that will lead to an improved workplace, which in turn could lead to a reduction in turnover.

And while that might not solve all your labor woes, it seems like a pretty good place to start.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.