Pirja Aarnio

By Pirja Aarnio

Work ability and Well-being Manager

+358 40 750 2700


The more I read, the more I talk with people and the more I think about it, the more important it seems. There’s one thing all industries need to pay attention to when it comes to leadership: people-oriented management.

Never underestimate the importance of seeing people as what they are, human beings. Never fail to notice the importance of looking at someone, really seeing them. The importance of listening. Being genuine. This is nothing new, but in these unpredictable times it’s increasingly important to manage people, not things. We’ve entered a new era that has turned remote working into something we’re faced with every day, whether we want it or not. We long for encounters and discussions, we want to be seen and heard.

The need to belong

The Human Capital Trends 2020 report by Deloitte highlights the following things as the topical issues in human resource management and the future of work: 1.) Well-being of the staff 2.) Belonging 3.) Reskilling 4.) The changing role of HR  5.) Knowledge management.

Here, I want to focus on belonging, which involves the 3 C’s: Comfort, Connection and Contribution.

1. Workers should feel comfortable at work (they should be able be themselves, be treated fairly and respected by their colleagues)

2. They should feel connected to their colleagues and their teams.

3. They should understand how they can help their teams and organizations achieve common goals.

Managers need to be familiar with not only the processes and field of business of their company but also their employees. Successful leaders care about their teams. They’re genuine, which is something you can’t fake. Leaders know themselves, show their vulnerabilities and are ready to admit their mistakes or the fact that they don’t always know everything. They should also heed NASA’s Bob Gibs’s advice and always start their conversations assuming that people do things for the right reasons, with good intentions.

Much about psychological safety

Google’s study (project Aristotle) determined five key dynamics for successful teams:

1. Dependability

2. Structure & clarity

3. Meaning of work

4. Impact of work

5. Psychological safety

Psychological safety entails being able to take risks and raise issues in front of team members without any fear of being ridiculed or punished. For this reason, I think that one of the most important jobs of a leader is to create an atmosphere of psychological safety. In addition to creating a safe environment, a leader needs to first and foremost know themself and then help others to identify their own motivations, weaknesses, strengths and limits. A leader should also assist their team members in self leadership, self-reflection and expressing their emotions. This way a leader learns to know each team member as an individual. They’ll understand what motivates the team members, what they are afraid of, what gives them structure and clarity, how they regard the company strategy, what they want to learn more about, how they should be given feedback and what unidentified skills they may possess.

The importance of encounters

We’re living in a time that is witnessing a rapid change in business and highlights change leadership as one of the important management skills. Often this has been considered the responsibility of HR, a coach or trainer. Hopefully we’ve now reached a stage that makes it clear how important it is for the manager to invest in people-oriented management and to know how to have meaningful encounters with those around them.

As in the past, in the future the best kind of manager is a person who’s able to raise even difficult issues and who helps people succeed and develop. These are skills whose basic principles can be taught during training sessions but that need to be practiced by doing, failing, requesting feedback and doing the same thing again.

People-oriented management makes a team stronger

If we’re forced to continue remote working for a long time still, the scarcity of social contacts will start to affect people in various ways. Managers are going to have difficulties addressing problems of coping, and the early detection of risks related to a person’s ability to work will become harder. As problems stay hidden, the risks increase. Small challenges may become big problems that can be hard to tackle. We will no longer chance on colleagues during our coffee break and have a short but meaningful talk that will create ties to the workplace, help us recover from work or give rise to new ideas. There will be no more conversations where a colleague suddenly notices their coworker’s weary gaze and dispirited demeanor and asks: “How are you, really?” Oftentimes, just being noticed and having the feeling that someone cares is enough. For these reasons, leaders need to carefully think how they can arrange for their people to have meaningful and personal encounters remotely.

Leaders, managers, HR: remember to look after yourselves as well and make sure you have someone who cares about your well-being. The feeling of belonging is our shared responsibility, regardless of our role.

The author has been practicing being a manager for over 10 years. She’s been responsible for people, projects and accounts. She’s recruited, budgeted, onboarded. She’s listened only to interrupt, assuming to know what the other person is saying, and lost sleep over upcoming discussions. She’s practiced being present and listening. She’s sparred with CBOs and helped to resolve conflicts. She’s studied management, NLP, coaching, and acquired certificates of various kinds (incl. DiSC, RMP Motivational Coach). Despite all this, she still learns something new about people every single day.


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