“Who is responsible for this?”
What a loaded question. It can be punishing or praising. Offload work, attributing blame, or seeking a recipient for adulation. And inherent in any answer, there’s a sense of hierarchy – of someone having to answer to another’s authority.
In the workplace, there’s often a tension between HR professionals and line managers. And that’s largely because while HR are defining initiatives, line managers are the ones who have to execute their plans. So where does the responsibility lie?
The relationship between line managers and HR matters
Research from CIPD shows that line managers are essential in making sure HR’s plans actually happen. The C-Suite may have the final say when it comes to sign-off and budgets, but line managers are the ones dealing day-to-day with employees.
They’re the only ones close enough to assess and recognise workplace performance, to keep the balance between encouraging meaningful work and supporting mental health, and to provide real insights into the change that HR are trying to drive. But the real challenge is getting them on board.
Why line managers become a bottleneck for HR initiatives
First, it comes down to that question: who’s responsible, and why are they responsible? The key to a harmonious relationship is, first and foremost, agreeing on that point. One study found that when line managers and HR aren’t aligned on the ownership of roles, organisational performance suffers.
That’s another reason why the perception of HR’s purpose is important. When HR are viewed as rule-making, admin-doing busy bodies, line managers are going to react negatively to being told what to do. Why do they know better than someone working one-to-one with employees? Why would they prioritise tasks from them, when there’s enough on their plate? Why can’t they just do it themselves?
But if HR is respected as a strategic function, that can all change.
How can HR support line managers to execute their strategy?
Change your attitude
One study showed that employees are more invested in their organisation if they view HR initiatives as beneficial to them, rather than an attempt to cut costs or increase output. The same research considered that – unlike everyday employees – line managers have to actively carry out HR’s initiatives, so their opinion (and subsequently, their buy-in) matters more.
To get HR practices carried out, and considered as worthwhile, make sure they’re designed to consider the impact on people. Don’t think of line managers as potential blockers – in-between your and everyday employees – but as people with their own issues. Leadership might want you to prioritise the bottom line, but HR is tasked with considering the impact on staff, too.
Tailor your approach
This study also saw that the same HR information provoked different responses, when given to line managers in different departments. It showed how essential it is to consider a range of factors: how the line manager might perceive HR, and the context of their department.
A line manager struggling with an undermotivated, under-performing team, who’s recently dealt with HR for disciplinary reasons, is going to have a completely different response than your star team lead who’s just got to hand out bonuses.
Acknowledge their value
Another piece of research considered three ways to get line manager buy-in: explain why they need to be involved, make roles clear, and help them see the value of their involvement. Essentially, tell them (1) what to do, (2) why they need to do it, and (3) what the positive impact will be on them and the organisation.
You need them. They need you. Your leaders need you to align. So shout about the value of what they do, and what you’d like them to do.
Consider their opinion
With the HR identity crisis in full swing, remember that changing everyone else’s attitudes takes time. Every memo you send, report your share, and action you set shapes line manager beliefs about the value of the HR department. And that opinion – as we’ve discussed – impacts whether they’ll actually do what you ask.
Go in with good intentions, taking them on this strategic journey with you, and the chances are you’ll see the results you’re hoping for.
How our platform can help HR & line managers work together
Like the relationship between the C-Suite and HR, it’s not easy to make a change – even when things are definitely not working out. But as is so often the case these days, technology has got your back. And in this case, it’s our People Analytics Platform.
Here’s how each part of our platform can help:
- People Analytics: with automatic analysis of your existing HRIS data, quickly see which department heads might need some guidance – and in which areas, whether it’s ‘communication’, ‘tools’, or any other aspect. Also see trends in KPIs like attrition.
- Employee Surveys: understand more about individual teams, and how they compare, by gathering feedback quickly and easily. Ready-to-send surveys and instant text analytics means understanding more about what’s driving challenges or success.
- HR Reporting: drag-and-drop, click-button, mix-and-match tools for sharing results makes it easy to get line managers clued in, and on board. You can add actions too, to guide them on their next steps and facilitate change.
- Domain Expertise: This is all backed up by years of industry experience, AI technology, HR-specific data, and much more. So you can justify your initiatives, and help line managers appreciate you as a strategic presence that they should listen to.