Karen Austin, Consultant
But what happens if, as a manager, you are not comfortable with the 'right way' to approach a situation? Is it right that HR should be challenging you and when should you challenge HR?
Just as a manager’s job is to manage, the role of a senior manager or someone with responsibility for HR in an organisation is to support. They should expect that line managers are fulfilling their whole role, not just the operational elements. Very rarely do staff issues go away as a result of managers avoiding them and in many cases situations become worse and more difficult to manage when a senior manager or HR intervenes to fill a gap left by the manager not taking action. When managers are not challenged to manage, things often get harder for them and the staff members involved and relationships often breakdown.
Once, as a manager, you are equipped and prepared to manage then my advice to you would be to challenge HR just as they challenge you. You need to understand and be comfortable with the strategy you are adopting to deal with staffing issues and if you are not then look to work this through collaboratively and constructively. If you feel that the advice you are being given is not right, explain the issues and how you would prefer to operate. In some cases the law won’t allow flexibility, but where it does you can compromise and where it doesn’t at least you will know the reason why.
In turn, my advice to those responsible for HR in your organisations is the same, expect to be challenged and encourage managers to challenge you. HR is about getting the best out of the people that work for your organisation. You may know the procedures but managers know their staff. From my experience, trying to write or implement a policy without taking into account the human element, can lead to a number of issues; the worst of which can see managers overriding or ignoring your advice completely.
Managers and HR need to work together to establish a set of policies, procedures and strategies that are owned by and work for the whole organisation. The relationship must be challenging if it is to be effective.