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Dilemma of the Month: How Can I Get Managers to Help More?

Back Article Dec 2, 2021 By Suzanne Lucas

I’m a human resources director for a large department in a big, people-oriented corporation. I’ve recently taken this role, and I’m still building my credibility. The problem is, senior managers in this department think most people-related work should be executed by HR. As much as I agree that HR should design the systems (like performance evaluation, recruitment, salary management, etc.) and train the managers on how to use them, it is still the manager’s job to carry them out: fill out job descriptions, do final interviews, evaluate performance or fire people. HR can advise and act as an expert. But how do we set this groundwork for our various responsibilities moving forward?

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You’re right to be a bit cautious as the new person. No one likes it when someone new waltzes in and changes everything on the spot. But you’re also right about boundaries: If you don’t set some soon, it will worsen. Here’s what I would do in your situation.

Talk with your boss 

You’re new to the position, and making changes won’t be easy. You need your boss’s support. This may not be automatic, of course. If you report to line management, your boss may think you should take care of everything. If you report to HR, it’s more likely you’ll get support. It’s also possible everyone will blink at you and be terribly confused because of course your job is to take care of everything! Hopefully, that won’t be the case.

If it is, you have three options: 1) Find a new job and leave. You aren’t compatible with this job; accept that this is how it is. 2) Do the job people think you should — that is, taking care of everything. 3) Work to slowly but surely make a change. Get managers to take over each task. You will be playing the long game, but you can work toward your end goal.

Talk with the department head 

You need the department head on board if you want to make changes. Explain the advantages of having the managers take over these tasks. 

Make sure you use terms the department head is likely to understand. This can mean tailoring your message based on the department. You’d probably speak differently to the chief scientist than you would to the head of sales. 

You will want to talk about employee engagement, turnover, retention strategies and gaining employee respect. If the department has had high turnover, this is a great thing to bring up.

For instance, high turnover can happen when you get a mismatch between what the employee thinks the job is and what the job actually is. Because the hiring manager knows the position better than HR will, you can do better recruiting, onboarding and retention if the manager writes the job description. Also, note how much turnover costs the company.

The same thing is true for performance appraisals. How on earth are you supposed to appraise every employee in the department accurately? And firing? HR is there for moral support and to make sure the manager follows the laws and company policy, but managers have to do that task.

Work with managers one-on-one

No one likes more work, and it appears that your predecessor took on some managerial duties before, but even with the full support of your boss and the department head, it will be difficult to change direction.

Instead of just telling managers they have to write the job description now, explain how to do it, and offer to sit with them while they do the first one. Do not take over. Do not touch the keyboard. Make the manager do the typing. It will almost certainly be faster to do it yourself, but this is a training exercise. 

Training can be done as a group, but most likely the managers will expect that you’ll do the work anyway — it’s critical that you not. So, one by one, you train them.

On some things, it should be more straightforward — like making the final hiring decisions. Managers generally want to handle this responsibility, and it must have been some power-hungry previous HR person who talked them out of it. Remind them that you are there to advise but not to decide. Hopefully, they will latch on to their newfound power and start doing the jobs they should have done all along. 

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Dave Nerz (not verified)December 6, 2021 - 6:30am

People typically do what they have been trained to do or more frequently what they have been allowed to do. Looks like the job for HR here is to educate and create new habits. As pointed out in the response above, be willing to do what you expect of a manager together the first time, with support the second time, and then from the sidelines the third time.

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