The Secret of Being a Great People Manager – Overcoming the Knowing-Doing Gap

The Knowing-Doing Gap

A few years back, I came to face with a variation of the knowing-doing gap.

I had done over 200 workshops on coaching skills. I could do near-perfect role plays on demonstrating skills like listening, empathy, paraphrasing, attending behaviour and asking open-ended questions.

Yet, my 360-degree feedback report gave me low marks on listening. I was perceived to be “impatient”, and even “judgemental”.

This is a case of knowing what to do – and not doing it!

Like most managers, I was not planning to be a bad listener. What can a manager like me do? Before I move on to share about that, let me show why people leadership is so important.

It’s all about people leadership!

Let me share a true story of two armies fighting each other:

Army 1: Strength 307,000; cost of 6 B USD; most modern assault rifles, armoured vehicles, night goggles, battle drones, air-force with 167 aircraft and trained professionals who are paid a salaryArmy 2: Strength 55-85,000 (no proper record), 300 million USD budget; no air-force, AK- 47 and some rocket launchers, mostly small arms; a mix of battle-hardened and inexperienced men who do not get salary

Which one do you think will win?

As you may have guessed by now, Army 1 was the Afghan army that lost in a matter of days. 

This was a monumental failure of Leadership. Leading Afghanistan as the President was Ashraf Ghani. Ghani was a Professor of Anthropology, Dean of Kabul University, Founder of the Institute of State Effectiveness, and an expert in fixing a broken state like Afghanistan. He even wrote a book on fixing failed states!

There was nothing that Ashraf Ghani did not know. Yet, he could do very little. The knowing-doing gap.

I propose a 3-step process to bridge the knowing-doing gap.

What is your superpower and what is your derailer?

If you have already reached senior management, you might have some superpowers. Alas, the chances are you may have also acquired one or two derailers. Sometimes, the derailers may also be outcomes of superpowers themselves. For example, I was perceived to be quick in decision-making. It was a fine dividing line between that and sounding “judgemental” to others.

At Great Manager Institute®, we have researched and extracted the competencies that make a Great People Manager. These competencies can all be tied up to the three major roles of a people manager – how to Connect with people, how to Develop them, and how to Inspire them to give their best. 

Structured feedback from your team and other colleagues gives you your people management profile. Once you get your people management profile, you can identify your superpower(s) and your derailer(s).

Ashraf Ghani, for all his qualifications, falls under a quadrant we describe as “apathetic manager”. This often coincides with a derailer – the inability to inspire trust and performance.

At Great Place to Work®, we did an analysis of the percentage of managers in each quadrant for companies which are “ranked” as the best workplaces in their lists and those which are not (the rest). We were surprised to know that it was not the task-masters or the avuncular (country club) managers who explained the gap between the best and the rest. Far too many managers in the Rest fell in the quadrant of the apathetic manager!

It is interesting to know this. What is next?

How to bridge the knowing-doing gap?

If you are a sales manager, you can achieve your sales targets and say that you did your job. But if you are a people manager, your job is never done. The sales manager who is consistently achieving his targets, may even be an inept people manager leading to high stress and attrition in the team.

Sending people managers to training programs and skill-building workshops has limited impact. It is like Ashraf Ghani doing a PhD in Anthropology to run Afghanistan!

The Power of Rituals

For centuries we have seen the role of rituals and practices in cementing religion and societies. What is lesser known is that the same is true for individual leaders.

Most of us are aware of the ritual called “Mann ki Baat” that India’s Prime Minister uses to communicate directly with citizens. There are many admirers and some critics of this practice. What many fail to see is that this has continued unbroken for more than 89 months!

Did you keep your resolution to walk regularly for 89 months? How about not losing your temper? Avoiding sweets? Reading a book every week? Doing social service?

If you have not been able to convert your resolution to consistent action, like India’s Prime Minister has been able to do for over 89 months, then chances are you do not have an appropriate ritual.

This brings me to my starting dilemma. How could I improve my listening?

I launched a ritual called “The CEO Listening Post”. On all working days at 7 pm, I would log in to a bridge number known to everyone. Anyone who logs in between 7 and 7:05 pm will be able to speak with me till 7:30 pm. There are three rules for the CEO Listening post:

  1. Active listening without judgements
  2. Only questions of clarification or understanding are allowed
  3. Closure of the conversation is my responsibility post the call

This continued for over two years. While this ritual forced me to listen more consciously, it also forced my colleagues to acknowledge that I was trying to be a better listener. The comments in my 360-degree report started to change. “He is genuinely trying to be a better listener,” was one such comment.

At Great Manager Institute®, we have collected hundreds of rituals for all behaviours relevant for a great people manager. A Family Ambassador is a ritual of meeting families of team members (caring behaviour). Ek Din ka Nayak is a ritual to invite a team member to officiate as a manager for a day (Developing Team Members). Sole-Mates is an exclusive group dedicated to walking (Wellness). Living Library is the ritual of booking one hour for a colleague to learn about something interesting that the colleague knows.

There is no doubt that if you want to convert a behaviour into a habit, you must practice that behaviour consistently. (On average, it takes 66 days for a behaviour to become a habit.)

Now that you know the secret of masters like Narendra Modi, Swami Chinmayanand, Ram Charan or Marshall Goldsmith – know your superpower and derailer, and craft rituals to build and sustain winning behaviours.

One more thing. How do great managers ensure that these rituals sustain over a long period?

Do you have a why?

Most of us would agree that as a society we are not geared to support, equip, and bring out the best in persons with disabilities. Chances are more that I will do something about it if I happen to have a child with special needs. There must be a reason why I want to be a better people manager- a reason deeper than career growth and business results– the two obvious WIIFM (What’s in it for me).

That is why our facilitators spend a significant time at the beginning of the intervention, helping managers explore the deeper reasons for being better people managers. In a day and age when your own children may not come to meet you when you ask them to come, isn’t it amazing how much your team members and colleagues listen to you, and even go out of their way for you! This is a great privilege and a responsibility. In a world where traditional anchors like marriage and family are weakening, everyone must have the opportunity to work with at least one great people manager. 

At Great Manager Institute®, we passionately believe that people are not resources to achieve the potential of the organization. The organization is the resource to achieve the potential of people. 

And people managers are the bridge to help realise this potential.

Prasenjit Bhattacharya is the Co-Founder and CEO of Great Manager Institute®, Founder Director of Great Place to Work® Institute, India, and a Director at Great Place to Work® Institute, Sri Lanka. Views are personal.

If your boss manages your engagement, what do you do?

If your boss manages your engagement, what do you do?

The concept of employee engagement (as opposed to satisfaction), is now 20 years old. One of the more popular frameworks introduced by The Gallup Corporation identified the manager as the most important driver of employee engagement.

Imagine most developing countries 20 years back. Formal jobs were rare. Most people wanted job security. In a world where supply was significantly lower than the demand, the sellers could set their price. Senior managers were powerful and could expect and get employees to do their bidding without much fuss. Job satisfaction was an academic subject not impacting the way organizations work.

Today, organizations compete to be in the coveted lists of best workplaces. They measure not only their employees’ engagement, but also track which manager is good at engaging teams and who is not.

One thing has not changed. The manager is still identified as the major driver of engagement of employees, apart from others, by the employees themselves. Consultants and Engagement specialists continue to reinforce this belief.

Is this strong belief as relevant today as it was twenty years back? Or should we question this belief just as we question beliefs like women are more suitable for jobs that require soft skills (or less suitable for jobs with poor work-life balance)?

Twenty years back, the manager had real power over people, simply because not many jobs were available. Today’s employees, particularly millennials, have many more options in the job market. If they can switch jobs easily without the manager having any power to stop them, what would they gain by giving the manager absolute power over their engagement?

This seems to be one of those self-perpetuating beliefs that we need to question. Most self-perpetuating beliefs are based on an assumption that is not questioned, leading to an action that is based on prejudice, which reinforces the same assumption.

Studies show a clear correlation between engagement and productivity, quality and creativity. If it is so important to my career, why would I sit back and wait for my boss to engage me? What if she is herself dis-engaged and waiting for her boss to engage her? Where does this chain stops? Who engages the CEO?

While CEO engagement is not what most of us have to worry about, we can take charge of our engagement and start by improving the engagement of our boss, i.e., improving the possibility of our boss investing discretionary efforts in our relationship with an attempt to help us develop.


  • Take accountability

It is a pleasure to work with people who can take accountability. They make an equal number of goof ups compared to others (sometimes more because they take decisions), but the difference is that they take accountability and come up with options. In a recent case, when there was a crisis involving multiple teams in an Organization, most were busy justifying why they did their part. One person formed a WhatsApp group of the concerned people, along with the boss, and scheduled a meeting to discuss options. Anyone from the group could have done it, but most were busy giving reasons.

Taking accountability starts with a sense of purpose and alignment with what the organization stands for. It is not dependent on the level of the person or the kind of job. I am reminded of the janitor at Mayo Clinic who said that her job was to save lives because she is a part of the process that reduces the chances of secondary infection.

Taking accountability also means knowing when to say “No” to something you will not be able to do well. Your “Yes” has no value if you cannot say “No”.

  • Build expertise

Everyone has heard about the 10,000-hour rule, researched by Anders Ericsson, and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.  This is often a surprise for MBAs who thought that case study analysis in college had prepared them for real-life problems. A programmer who is merely programmed to write codes without understanding the business logic will be really bad at his job. This is why the software industry has developed another role called the business analyst who is supposed to understand not only what the customer needs, but also why. The programmer who grows faster in the organization invests that much extra time in developing his ability to understand the customer’s business and the logic behind his requirements. Over time this programmer can even question this logic and offer more innovative options to the customer.

This might require you to get out of your comfort zone and develop good habits like investing the first 60 minutes of the day to do what you are not comfortable doing.

  • Enterprise

At the end of the day, there are only two kinds of employees – one who comes to the boss with a “challenge” and one who comes with a “challenge” and how he or she plans to solve it. In a soap making company every once in a while there will be a packet of soap in the automated process with no soap inside! When all experts failed to come up with a cost-effective solution, an operator simply installed a fan blowing air with enough force to displace an empty packet from the assembly line!

The biggest obstacle to your career is a belief that you are a prisoner of circumstances with your boss holding the power to engage or disengage you. It does not matter whether this assumption is right or wrong, but this is a self-fulfilling assumption that will not help your development or your career.

Your boss will be your biggest ally if you take charge of not just your engagement, but also that of your boss! An engaged boss will put in more discretionary effort in your development.

And also give you a great reference when you decide to quit! (on your terms)


Prasenjit Bhattacharya is the Founder Director at Great Place to Work® Institute, Sri Lanka, and Great Place to Work® India. He is currently the CEO of Great Manager Institute ®. Views expressed are personal.

How to become a “Great First-Time Manager?” – An Interview with Dhananjay Singh

How to become a “Great First-Time Manager?” – An Interview with Dhananjay Singh

Dhananjay Singh NHRDN

The Great Manager Institute® through Gunjan Chelani, Manager at Great Manager Institute had the privilege of interviewing Dhananjay Singh. He is the Director – General of the National Human Resource Development Network.  He has been a Management professional responsible for Strategic Planning, Board Collaboration, Regulatory Compliance and Leadership Development, Stakeholder Engagement and New Initiatives for National HRD Network for 11 years.

Before this, Mr. Singh was working with the All India Management Association. He defines himself as a social worker with the core competency of working with people and developing what he calls Collective People Power.

In this interview, Mr. Singh told us a little about his childhood and his inclination to people management. He was born and brought up in Prayagraj and mentioned how his grandmother encouraged him to study and educate himself. As a child, he was always keen on becoming a people manager. His father worked in the administrative sector and watched him solve all problems he faced through people-oriented strategies/approaches. It made Mr. Singh realise that since people make complex issues, the people are a solution to the problem.

When asked how he started his journey at National HRD Network, Mr. Singh elaborated on how much the network had done for India and the Human Resource sector as a profession that they have now set up an office in Singapore. He received questions from different governments like “Is it for Indians or is it of Indians?”. He responded by saying that “this is for HR and this is of HR by HR here.” He made sure that whatever NHRDN has to offer, it offers to all HR persons irrespective of their nationality. He spoke about how a person doesn’t require a high qualification to become a member of the network. All the person has to have is the potential to grow and contribute to the network.

What practices do the people of NHRDN follow?

At NHRDN, everyone works as a team, they keep their expectations realistic. An example he gave was that if he doesn’t show up on time to work he doesn’t pressurize his employees or ridicule them if they show up late. He stresses being crisp and clear in communication. He believes that being empathetic and compassionate are practices one must follow besides setting up goals or meeting targets. Mr. Singh explains the beliefs and practices he follows by keeping the current situation of the country, and the economy in mind. He says that “it’s not about being soft, it’s about being sustainable.” He talks about respecting employees’ privacy and freedom which would bring about excellent results.

When asked about how National HRD Network coped with COVID-19 and the restrictions it brought about, he said that covid did change the way people look at work and business. According to him, it did blur the lines between a professional working environment and life at home.  But it wasn’t really a problem for them. He said, “they were ahead of the curve as far as the logical shift was concerned.” They were able to make a smooth transition from offline to online, their employees were provided with all the facilities they needed. Their HR practices continued, like employees were helping each other offline, they continued to help each other even after working online. Conversations around/about Health and wellness became the top priority of the network.

We also asked him about what he would say to new upcoming Gen Z managers, does he see a difference between how millennials and Gen Z handle things? The advice Mr. Dhananjay Singh would give to new managers was broken down into 3 points-  

Firstly, one must invest in themselves.

He says ‘Your growth is your responsibility and that does not mean that you’re not responsible for organizational growth. If you have that sense of contribution and understanding of contribution, rest assured, you will contribute to the organization for sure.’ 

Secondly, always be a team player

Be a team player and always see where you can contribute, to the organization and to the society.’  

Lastly, take care of one’s own health and family’s health too.  

‘It does not matter how rich or poor you are. Covid-19 has taught us that there is no substitute for your health and relationships.’ 

He defined National HRD Network’s collaboration with Great Manager Institute® by saying that Great Manager Institute ® is creating competition between managers. It brings out the good in managers, quantifiable good in managers or people, that they themselves are not aware of.  According to him, GMI through its Great People Manager Study is providing managers with a platform where they are assessed and recognised  too.

He further stated that he sees these employees, and these managers as human resources, it doesn’t matter where they come from. From NHRDN’s collaboration with GMI, he is mesmerised by how GMI brings out the immense potential of these managers, which contributes not only to the growth of their organisation but to the growth of society as well.

To know more about Great Manager Institute® and Great People Manager study, click here.

When You Open Your Doors, Your Employees Stay In | Ft. Praveen Nair, Founder of Xcubated Business Solutions

When You Open Your Doors, Your Employees Stay In | Ft. Praveen Nair, Founder of Xcubated Business Solutions

Praveen Nair

We asked a group of managers a simple question – “What do you do when your employees start to leave?”

Here are the answers we got:

  • 30% said- “We hire better people.”
  • 35% said- “We make our exit policies stricter.”
  • 35% said- “We do regular team-building exercises.”

Do you think these answers are good enough in 2022? Everyone talks about employee retention, yet, few managers truly understand that their leadership style plays a vital role in employees wanting to stay. Only when they stop being a “boss”  will they become “leaders”.

Who is a great leader? Is it someone who ensures their team follows rules? Or is it someone who ensures that their team is productive? We, at Great Manager Institute®, believe that Great People Managers build trusting relationships that lead to sustained business results

One such great leader is Praveen Nair, the Founder and Managing Director of Xcubated Business Solutions (XBS), an advisory, consulting, digital transformation and smart products organization with a presence in India, Australia, Europe and the UK.

“I have initiated anonymous feedback specifically for managers with constructive assistance so that they can set up their team for success.”

At XBS, Praveen has implemented many great practices which made him a part of the prestigious list of the Top 100 Great People Managers of 2021 by Great Manager Institute ®, published in Forbes India. One such commendable practice is “flat hierarchy”. His company was able to reduce attrition by 50% only because all the managers follow an open-door policy.

“As the Founder, I am accessible to all, irrespective of their role in the organization and I welcome ideas, innovations, suggestions for improvements and new thoughts.” 

If your organization is struggling to attract and retain great talent, it is probably time to have a thorough review of your leadership practices. Great Managers Institute® is on a mission to make great leaders and in our series “Your Employees are Leaving Because of You”, we are sharing the best employee retention practices of India’s Top 100 Great People Managers of 2021.

According to GMI, this is what we can learn from Praveen Nair’s story:

  1. Be a good listener. Keep your doors and ears open for feedback from your teammates. 
  2. Implement a “people-first” approach. Fun team events and outings will help you stay together and win together.
  3. Lead, don’t preach. Create an environment of open discussions and lead your team by example.

If you believe your leadership skills are at par with the best practices shared in this story, participate in Great People Manager Study 2022 and get a chance to feature in India’s Top 100 Great People Managers list. We are eager to hear your story. Register here!

Cheers to great leaders!

Individual Success is as Important as Company Success | Ft. Balaji KS

Individual Success is as Important as Company Success | Ft. Balaji KS

Balaji KS

A young engineering graduate was in the last few weeks of getting his engineering degree and was struggling to get placed. He had lost all hopes of getting a decent job when he got an opportunity for an interview with Rishabh Software. He not only got a job but also received extensive training and support for future opportunities.

This is how Balaji KS is leading his work family through excellent employee happiness practices. As the Senior VP of People and Client Success at Rishabh Software, Balaji says:

“Human resources is all about making or re-creating individuals.”

His great leadership values got him a spot on the prestigious Top 100 Great People Managers of 2021 list by Great Manager Institute®, published in Forbes India. His practices for employee happiness at the workplace can become a game changer for all organizations.

“Our HR team ensures each employee has individual success.” 

At Rishabh Software, the HR team has a genuine employee-first approach. There is a strong belief that if the individual aspirations of the employees are met, they would be able to contribute more towards the organization’s goals as well. They have an individual upskilling plan for each employee, which helps them grow within the company.

“If I learn something new, I take training sessions with my employees.” 

Employee happiness is not just about fun events or pizza parties. Your employee should get continuous opportunities to expand their skill set and grow with your business. Offering additional training and certifications gives them a sense of accomplishment beyond their day-to-day responsibilities.

Great Managers Institute® is on a mission to bring out the best in industry leaders. In our series “Is Your Work Family Happy”, we share the best workplace practices of India’s Top 100 Great People Managers of 2021.

According to GMI, this is what we can learn from Balaji’s story:

  1. Have an employee-first approach
  2. Understand your employees’ aspirations
  3. Set your employees for individual success
  4. Make knowledge-sharing an integral part of your HR practices
  5. Create new learning opportunities as your employees grow

If you believe your leadership skills are at par with the best practices shared in this story, participate in Great People Manager Study 2022 and get a chance to feature in India’s Top 100 Great People Managers list. We are eager to hear your story. Register here!

Cheers to great leaders!