July 28, 2010 HR, Leadership, Management

HR – Are you the Management Advisor or the Surrogate Manager?

A friend of mine who is the head HR for a multi-location 3,000+ employee company gave me some feedback on my July 14th blog concerning the power of knowledge as it relates to the Human Resources profession. She (I’ll call her Angie) explained how frustrated she felt as she read it. She described her day as having been particularly hectic and, at the end of the day sought out my blog for some inspiration and motivation, but that instead it frustrated her. As she read it, she couldn’t help thinking how hard it can be to even get to ‘the table’ much less find a seat, when you are consumed with extinguishing the fires created largely by those who are at the table. Having been there myself, I could certainly empathize with her. Too often HR serves as the surrogate manager – acting on behalf of the manager when the heat is on to make a tough, risky decision. There are lots of reasons this happens and occasionally they are legitimate. However, for the most part, HR acts for the manager because we think it will take too much time to teach and guide the manager through owning the resolution. Our intentions are always good – we usually move in to protect the company against a potentially serious and costly mistake. No doubt, our actions are driven in part by self-preservation, since HR will likely have to face bigger problems arising from a manager’s failure to completely and properly resolve the problem. Inevitably, however, doing the manager’s ‘dirty work’ simply results in HR doing more and more dirty work, while managers lose an important opportunity to grow and learn. And, of course, there’s that seat at the table….yours..the one that goes unfilled while you do someone else’s job. Angie’s company is growing rapidly – an enviable problem to have in this tough economic climate. The company has hired or promoted several new managers and directors. Angie has quickly gained the respect of her colleagues by her responsiveness and skill in dealing with tough issues quickly and effectively. However, some of her peers have begun to forfeit their management responsibility and by sending their employees directly to Angie when problems arise rather than dealing with the problems either directly or seeking out Angie’s advice on how to deal with the problem. When this cycle begins it’s usually not a big deal. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s even flattering. But, with several new managers, limited training and a rapid rate of change and growth, it can quickly become a bad habit – one which we helped create and which we also must break. I suggested to Angie that she meet with her colleagues, explain her role and encourage them to tap into her expertise (knowledge) to help them increase their effectiveness as leaders. Importantly, she must also convince them that neither her value to the company nor their future growth potential is well served by her acting in their place. Rather, is her knowledge and ability to be a strong support partner combined with their courage in stepping up to the plate during tough times that will yield the greatest return for the company – and for their careers. So, if you find yourself frustrated and distressed at being left behind to do the manager’s job, ask yourself how much of the issue you are responsible for creating, and what can you do to change it? You’ve got the knowledge, and therefore the power to turn this situation around – and empower the managers to learn and grow.

I would love to hear from HR leaders who successfully turned this situation around in their organization.