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The tail should not wag the dog

Blair McPherson - Former Director, Author and Blogger
As a senior manager I was and continue to be a big fan of HR but this was not always the case.
I had been in post about 12 months when the new chief executive implemented his restructuring plan. We had to apply for positions in the new structure with no guarantee of a post. I was interviewed by the chief executive, my director and the director of HR. The interview was conducted in an informal atmosphere more of a discussion about how I saw the role. I was in tune  with my Director and this seemed to be what the chief executive wanted to hear. However at one point the discussion turned into a debate with the director of HR about how I got on with my colleagues in HR. I knew this was a reference to a couple of occasions where I had gone against the wishes of HR .
I had been surprised on joining the organisation to find HR seemed to want a lot more oversight of operations than I was use to. However in this ,”discussion” perhaps because the interview was going so well I express my view about the roll of HR in rather undiplomatic terms. I said , “The tail should not wag the dog”. I could tell by the body language that this was not well recited. However the next day my Director informed me I had got the job. He said the chief executive was impressed and I was the unanimous choice. He casually mentioned that the Director of HR would be I contact to invite me to have a chat about working relationships with HR and that he thought this was a good idea.
Perhaps I went into our chat still a little high from the thrill of being appointed to an Assistant Directors post, maybe I was a little full of my own importance. I was certainly naive in relation to office politics. Otherwise I would have registered the significance of the title, Director of HR  as opposed to Head of. I would have given more thought to how HR was perceived in the organisation and how much influence it had. I would have recognised I had the job and so could afford to be less strident and opinionated and certainly more tactful. I now recognise I was being invited to be a little more deferential to some one who was a Director. Instead I was bullish and even went so far as to repeat my statement that the tail should not wag the dog. The Director ended the meeting by saying we would have to agree to disagree.
Two weeks later I was summoned to a meeting with the chief executive, at which the director of HR was present, and informed that I didn’t have a future with the organisation. I was placed on gardening leave whilst I negotiated my exit package.
I was not astute enough at the time to recognise how the chief executive was using HR. With the benefit of hindsight and years of experience as a senior manager it is clear the new chief executive appointed a Director of HR to bring about a change in management culture as well as oversee the implementation of the new management structure.
My experience illustrates that HR has different roles at different times, some times more strategic and influential  other times more supportive and tactical. Which leads me to believe that when dealing with issues of competence, behaviour, attendance, recruitment, support and development the wise manager listens to the advice and guidance of HR , which they can take or reject but whatever they must take responsibility for their actions. Which of course is a tactful way of saying the tail should not wag the dog. 

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