Allies or enemies? How HR and line managers can work together more effectively

Poor old HR has received another battering. This time, at the hands of line managers who have accused the profession of not giving them enough support.

In a survey conducted by Hay Group, almost half of managers said their HR team was slow to respond to requests, while 40%  felt HR actively ‘blocked’ them from making decisions.  Managers also accused HR of guarding information and data too closely – with 41% saying they would rather go to Google for answers than have to deal with their HR team.

As ever, there are two sides to every story – and although HR people may have issued a collective ‘ouch’, they certainly haven’t taken the criticism lying down.  Sixty-four per cent of HR directors said line managers caused unnecessary tension by expecting immediate answers to questions.  They also felt HR teams had to spend so much time hand-holding line managers that it was preventing them from getting on with more strategic work.

It’s easy to see how this friction has arisen between the two parties.  HR teams are finding themselves increasingly stretched, with 94% of HR directors seeing their department downsized to cut costs.  Frequent enquiries – and the need to constantly walk line managers through HR processes to make sure they act consistently and within the law – is all adding to the weight of work.  Line managers, on the other hand, want to get the job done and are clearly frustrated when they can’t get the information or action they need at the time they need it.

So how to get out of this hole and restore good relations?  My view is that three key things need to change:

  1. there are still too many line managers who regard managing people as something they have to do ‘as well as’ the day job.  They haven’t switched on to the fact that managing people is the day job.    Survey after survey has shown that line managers play a critical role in building employee engagement.  If companies want to get the best out of their people, they need to make it a priority to equip line managers with the tools and skills they need to manage staff properly.  This emphasis on good people management also needs to be reflected in the objectives managers are set and in the way their performance is measured and rewarded.
  2.  HR can’t assume that all line managers somehow magically know how to manage people.  There are some managers who are naturals when it comes to communication, influencing and motivation – but there are just as many who struggle with these ‘softer’ management skills.  Often, people are promoted into management because of their  technical expertise or their business nous, rather than for their people management capabilities.  HR needs to recognise this and provide coaching and development opportunities to help newly appointed and existing managers improve their practice in this important area.
  3.  is the need for companies to make better use of technology to streamline and support their people management processes.  The sophisticated HR software now available on the market can solve many of the issues line managers are complaining about at the click of a mouse.  It can guide them through performance management processes and help them manage absence and annual leave.  It can give them an overview of the skills available in their team so they can plan resourcing and training accordingly.  Technology, if used to its fullest extent, can put the people-related data managers need at their fingertips.  Companies often think that these HR solutions are only for the bigger players and will be beyond their budget.  Thanks to advances in technology, however, sophisticated systems are now within reach of even the smallest business.

Technology can’t replace the constructive conversations that need to happen between managers and their people – but it can certainly do a lot to make life easier for the line and to take the pressure off HR.

Are HR and line managers allies or enemies in your business?  How do you think working relationships between the two parties could be improved?

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