Don’t pawn the tough stuff on HR

In the early days of my management career I had to let someone go. As was the usual procedure, an HR rep had to be present to witness the proceedings. Before the meeting the HR rep asked me if I wanted her to communicate the bad news. I have to admit the thought that ran through my head was “Hell, yes I want you to do it! Somebody please spare me this awful meeting where I am about to take away this person’s livelihood! I would do anything right now to avoid the look of hurt and betrayal I am about to receive!” In the end though, I held the meeting and I delivered the bad news. He was my employee and I had a responsibility as his boss, even though that relationship was about to end. The right thing to do was for me to accept this final task in our working relationship. Know what? Years later we are still in touch. We’re not close friends, but we share a mutual respect. I have a hard time believing we would have walked away on good terms if I let the HR rep handle the firing.
My current company has a very active HR department. They are hard charging individuals who make themselves available to the management staff. I like them and I like working with them, which I don’t say about many HR departments. They are always encouraging managers and executives to approach them with questions, which I think is good. What is bad though is that sometimes they get to handle the uncomfortable situations themselves.Look, maybe I’m old fashioned, but managers should handle the uncomfortable situations. Whether it is counseling bad behavior, letting someone go, or having to answer a question with an answer you know the employee will not be receptive to, it is still your job. I think it is wonderful when managers learn how to delegate, but there are tasks that are firmly in your wheelhouse.

From a leadership standpoint, it makes you look weak. If you are only a leader when the news is good but run and hide behind HR when the news is hard, you will not gain respect or confidence from your staff. Also, while I know many HR professionals who are good at their job, many of them are not paid to deal with management issues and most of them lack leadership skills. Dealing with the hard tasks defines you more as a leader. Honestly, if you’re effective as a leader at all you are going to be the best person to deal with that employee, in good times or bad. That’s the job. Embrace it.

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Posted in Advice, Managing Employees
2 comments on “Don’t pawn the tough stuff on HR
  1. MK says:

    Awesome advice. As an HR guy, I love when managers have this mentality. When they don’t, I try and coach them – HR is a resource and sounding board for these kind of conversations, but the manager should own them. It’s tough, but it makes the manager stronger, which ultimately makes the organization a better place to work.

    • Rob Aught says:

      Glad to see some reinforcement from an HR professional. I missed the memo that says “We can let HR do our job for us.” I think another aspect to this is that it really is disrespectful to our HR partners to just assume they’ll do all the nasty jobs for us.

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