As a consultant and educator in the HR profession, I often hear gripes and complaints from HR Generalists, Business Partners, and Directors that “managers just don’t get it”… I usually listen to their complaints go on for a while as they make blistering remarks about “they just don’t ‘get it’ that they can’t just fire an employee without any documentation!” Other remarks I hear, “the managers just think all we do over here in HR is try to make their lives miserable–when all we’re trying to do is protect the company from being sued!” Ugh!
As I listen to the gripes and complaints, I’m always amazed at how it doesn’t seem to cross these professionals’ minds that they OWN helping the managers to ‘get it’. After I let them gripe a while, I ask a simple question, “What do you think the solution is to help them ‘get it’ that they need to be leading their people differently?” The response I get is, “I don’t know…they just need to ‘get it’ what we’re trying to tell them.”
I wonder how that’s workin’??? Well, it’s not. This strategy isn’t a strategy at all–it’s simply complaining about a chronic problem we have in many U.S. work environments. Managers that are overwhelmed with the myriad of tasks and responsibilities they have on their plates. After I hear the complaining go on for a while, I then ask HR folks this question: “When is the last time anyone took a look at the job design of the managers???” I usually get puzzled looks and some are not even sure what job design is. Many professionals confuse job design with a job description–very different things.
A lot of managers today don’t “get” the risk management side of managing people because A) they haven’t been properly trained to understand all the alphabet soup of employment laws that HR knows intimately. And, B) the design of their jobs has gotten so out of whack after this recessionary environment that many are just on the verge of burnout. Yes, there are those managers that are workaholics, micromanagers, and control freaks…however, a lot of managers are really quite good, efficient, and do understand how to manage people effectively. But, and this is a big but–they are just so harried and haphazard in their roles that they’re trying to do many things, serve too many bosses, and all the while trying to be “working” managers. This means they’re usually “worker bees” while at the same time responsible for supervising others. Guess what?! It doesn’t work!
HR gets extremely frustrated because managers don’t follow-through on tasks HR gives them…HR usually has to email managers at least 3 times to follow-through on reviews or other admin stuff. And, HR gets uptight when managers seem to drop the ball on documenting employee performance issues. I agree that documentation is important. However, when managers are spread very thin, trying to “work” performing tasks similar to their people, and having to do project work and follow-through on a bazillion tasks their bosses want… they have a very difficult time prioritizing. So, what’s the solution??
In order to help managers “get it”, HR needs to take ownership of the leadership development process. Look at the current training programs in place (if any) and blow the dust off them. It’s probably been a few years since managers have had any training, as during the recession a bunch of that was simply cut from budgets. In blowing the dust off the training, evaluate whether or not it even addresses things like documentation, employment law training (beyond sexual harassment), and if it addresses issues re: managing employee performance effectively. If the answer is, “no”, the existing programs don’t provide training around these subjects, then it’s time to build a new program. And, it’s high time to provide employment law compliance training to help those managers “get it.” Lastly, the job design issue is paramount.
Have a look at the design of some manager’s jobs. Who do they report to and why? Are they reporting to one leader–but “dotted line” to another? Those types of arrangements rarely are effective and create more confusion. What are the tasks the leader is performing and how much on a daily basis? How many hours a week is he/she working and if it’s more than 50 hours, why? What tasks does this leader perform now that truly just don’t make sense in the grand scheme of things? As an example, is this leader responsible for a team of 10; yet, this leader is also a project manager expected to manage remote projects and give updates to the boss routinely? And, this leader now travels about 35%? If all this is different, the design of this job has changed dramatically. It’s time to start redesigning the job, perhaps giving it a new title, deleting certain tasks that don’t make any sense–and reallocate some of the tasks to others. Why? So, the leader can actually “lead” vs. continuing to work haphazardly just being a task master. If the leader has enough time to lead his/her direct reports, give good direction, do one-on-one meetings with people, provide feedback, etc. The leader will have time to do good documentation and can demonstrate that he/she “gets it.”
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of Results Performance Consulting, Inc. a firm specializing in leadership development and HR training.