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It’s HR’s fault… or is it all our fault?

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

The tail should not wag the dog. I must confess I did use this expression to describe HR in the past. My bad as they say these days. It was early in my managerial career. I thought HR had too much power and it was being used to stifle my actions as a manager.

I wrongly thought that since I was an operational manager then HR were there to carry out my wishes whether that be regrading a post, changing job descriptions, dispensing with an external job advert because I had identified the ideal internal candidate, or ,”getting rid of “, a member of the team who was either incompetent, disruptive, disobedient  or disliked by the rest of the team. I didn’t like it when they said I couldn’t do it.

I soon learnt that ringing up HR and saying I intended to do this or that and almost challenging them to tell me I couldn’t was a very bad idea. Not that I was ever going to ask HR for “permission” to do what I was clear needed to be done. I did however start asking how I could go about resolving this or that staffing issue without being subject to a grievance, being accused of harassment and bullying and generally getting a reputation as a abrasive and unreasonable manager.

I learnt the importance of building an informal relationship with colleagues in HR. Whenever I was in HQ I called round to say hello, they offered a coffee and we chatted. The point being that I didn’t just get in touch when I had a problem. Having dispensed with the MR Angry reputation I was able to demonstrate I was a reasonable manager occasionally frustrated at the perceived bureaucracy around implementing change. And surprise, surprise colleagues in HR were just as keen to get managers to deal with underperforming employees, absenteeism,  poor practice and unnecessary delays in the recruitment process and longstanding  inequalities in the grading of posts.

The whole thing turned on its head for me when I was appointed Director of Resources now I was no longer an operational manager but responsible for a range of support services, Finance, IT, and HR. I was surprised and disappointed in how managers even some senior managers saw the role of HR. There was a general attitude that HR were failing to deal with high levels of absenteeism in the organisation. That HR were responsible for the length of time it took to fill vacant posts. That HR made it difficult to discipline or dismiss staff. That HR almost encouraged staff to submit grievances against managers.

The problem as I saw it was not that HR weren’t good at their job but that managers didn’t accept that people management was part of their job. That managers needed to take more responsibility for resolving issues with members of their team. The necessary policies and procedures were in place for them to do so. Support and guidance was available form experienced and knowledgeable HR specialist if managers were prepared to listen.

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