If I had a thebe for the number of times I’ve heard a line manager say ‘it’s HR’, as a way of explaining to his or her team why there is a need to work overtime, or why there are no salary increases or bonus pay-outs, or why someone was not selected for appointment/promotion/training, or, more to the point, why there is a looming retrenchment.
The answer to the disgruntled individual or disengaged team is typically that ‘I don’t understand how these HR people do their things’, or ‘I have submitted this to HR and can’t understand why this is happening’, or ‘HR refused’.
The fact of the matter is that HR would not have made a unilateral decision without following due process, or outside normal consultative channels within the various relevant structures in the management team.
The line manager would have been part of such deliberations and would know that the unfavourable decision being presented as ‘HR’ to the team was informed by policy or other governance tool.
Especially now as we are navigating through the aftermath of covid-19 and its impact on our workplaces, we must be able to stand as a team when we make difficult choices and unpopular decisions.
Of particular concern to employees would be whether they are protected at work, will there be another lockdown tomorrow that would affect their salary for that month, or, in the case of businesses that are required to operate on limited hours, staff would be asking themselves how much longer before the business collapses along with their livelihoods.
Under the circumstances, as leaders, we can’t afford to appear to shrink from our responsibility and try to pass the buck to someone else called ‘HR’.
Staff should be secure in the knowledge that the leader in front of them is the one they can trust to provide support, including honest and transparent information even, and especially, about difficult questions.
It is possible that maybe these line managers are not trying to pass the buck.
It is actually very possible that they work in a closed culture where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, where feedback and general information are not readily accessible, and that would be unfortunate and debilitating. It is also possible that these line managers are not empowered to talk to their teams.
So they don’t have the authority to respond to some of these questions, which is why they refer them to HR.
Maybe, and hopefully, it’s not about the culture, but more about the ability of the line managers, to package and disseminate communication to their teams in meaningful ways. Maybe they don’t have the necessary skills to confidently do this, so they prefer not to.
Looking back at what I said in previous articles about staff surveys, instead of speculating on what the cause of the apparent abdication of responsibility at line manager level could be – look, this can go all the way up to head of department level, it’s not just about the shop floor supervisor at the out-station – so yes instead of speculating, why not survey the skill profiles of your various management levels and establish who needs what type of training and/or coaching, and provide it, to enable better understanding and increased ownership of decisions. It’s easy to assume in the HR office that because you have responded, whether by call, email or however responses are issued in your environment, that your message has been received and processed as you intended it by everyone. In some cases people will say ‘received thank you’ when in fact they should say ‘I saw the message but we still need to talk’. So please colleagues, facilitate your teams by equipping all in authority with what used to be called soft skills but are now proving themselves not to be so soft after all.
Have a good week.
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