People management systems: A new category for a new reality

Adam Berke

People management systems: what are they? why do we need them?

Businesses are made up of people. Not tasks, not tickets, and certainly not channels. So when we think about what the most important tools will be as we adapt to a new work environment, it needs to start there, with people.

People Management Systems are a new category of technologies that focus on guiding and enhancing the operational building block of an organization - the relationship between employees and their managers.

Why are people management systems gaining adoption now?

A new work environment calls for a new mindset and a new set of tools. 

The shockwave of 2020 is causing permanent changes in the way organizations operate. The best leaders are realizing the “old” way of doing things is never coming back, so they’re looking for ways to win in the new reality, and People Management Systems are among the solutions.

In a Price Waterhouse Coopers survey, 83% of employers said the shift to remote work has been successful for their business and in a Morning Consult poll, 76% of workers who are able to work from home said they’d like to continue to do so even once the pandemic is contained.

The genie is officially out of the bottle. So how will managers adapt to the new reality? How will they build relationships without ad hoc interactions and serendipitous encounters in the hallway?

What do people management systems help with?

As the data above shows, flexibility is the future, but somewhat ironically, the key to unlocking flexibility and building strong workplace relationships is in having intentional structure. Flexibility plus the ad hoc management practices of yore is a recipe for chaos.

People Management Systems provide the guidance and structure that allow for flexible work arrangements. Specifically, they help managers implement best practices that ensure clear priorities and expectations while also enabling asynchronous work

Some of those best practices include regular one-on-one meetings, continuous feedback, goal setting, and appropriate recognition.  

While work environments of the future will utilize an increasingly diverse set of norms, there are consistent principles that will apply to any arrangement. The good news is that many of these principles were best practices in traditional work environments too, but in arrangements where close collaborators have less (or no) facetime, they’re non-negotiable.

How are people management systems different from traditional performance management software?

People Management Systems deliver some familiar aspects of existing tools but combine them in a new way to enable teams to perform at their best. Performance Management software is one category that shares some common elements of People Management Systems.

However, traditional Performance Management software was built in an era where feedback was delivered exclusively via formal performance reviews. Those reviews would happen bi-annually or at best quarterly and then the software would mostly sit on the shelf as a repository of the “paper trail.”

In contrast, People Management Systems are focused on guiding the day to day relationship between manager and employee, so they facilitate continuous feedback and tie in longer-term goals to specific tasks and action items.

In the era that the Performance Management category was established, the way software was purchased was also very different. At that time, software was purchased and implemented in a top-down manner with tools foisted upon the end-user by a senior decision-maker. For Performance Management, that was usually a Human Resources executive. 

The fact that the buyer for Performance Management software is different from the end-user often results in a product that’s cumbersome and doesn’t solve problems for the front line worker. HR executives might’ve needed it for compliance, but employees often didn’t find those tools helpful.

People Management Systems by contrast have been built in an era where employees on the front line try products before they buy them, then share the software upward and throughout the org chart, but only if it works for them. That creates a better alignment since the end-user is the buyer.

How are people management systems different from project management software?

The focus on day to day work inherent to People Management Systems means they have aspects of Project Management software too. After all, accountability around action items and completion of goals are inherent to good management.

That said, there are some key differences. Project Management software needs to be able to handle a wide array of use cases, from a marketing team launching a new campaign to a product team tracking the steps to build a new feature. That makes these tools very configurable, but with that flexibility comes a lot of upfront work required to suit the specific use case and often layers of complicated functionality that provide a steep learning curve to adoption.

People Management Systems are specifically designed to guide the employee-manager relationship, and since humans are humans regardless of industry or job function, functionality can be purpose-built for a specific use case.

It’s also important to note that People Management Systems can work wonderfully alongside existing Project Management software and are not meant to replace them. An inherent quality of People Management Systems is that they should integrate with other tools since they sit “upstream” of larger projects. Before anything becomes a project, it usually starts as an idea or discussion topic between a team member and their manager. 

Charma: The people management system

We started Charma in 2018 with an eye to all of the above. Having struggled with building and operating teams, it was clear that there was an opportunity for an intentional system that cultivated the habits of the best run organizations, and democratized them for teams regardless of size, stage, or industry. 

The need for People Management Systems was evident well before the pandemic, but the pandemic and the associated thrust to distributed work arrangements accelerated the trends and turned such a tool from a nice to have, to a need to have. The old way of doing things that relied on informal check-ins and “fly-by” management was no longer only sub-optimal, it was entirely untenable, not to mention physically impossible.

While the transition has been painful in some cases, we’ve also been heartened to see how the best leaders have adapted and are not only coping with the new reality but thriving and taking advantage of the benefits that flexible work arrangements unlock.

At Charma, our mission is to empower teams to operate more effectively and with greater clarity by guiding and enhancing the relationship between managers and their direct reports. By building the leading People Management System, we look forward to guiding the transition to a more flexible and fair work environment so that organizations around the world can achieve their mission.

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