Confessions of a middle manager – Part 2 of many

I talk to HR a lot.

In my past jobs Human Resources was “The Great Obstructor”. When trying to find a job it was the HR department that you had to hope filtered you through to someone with actual hiring authority. Sometimes getting that job interview was like winning the lottery. As much as I don’t like using recruiters, many times I would try to find a recruiter or someone I might know at a company because the most effective way to get a job was to bypass HR. Likewise, on the hiring side I could get better candidates by skipping our HR department. When I wanted to fire someone I had to navigate the byzantine maze of HR to make sure I could. As a manager I routinely had to follow up with HR on employee concerns because the employees would have questions but were afraid to go to HR themselves. I became their intermediary.

That sounds like a lot of activity, but most of it was nothing but a series of one shots. Get in then get out.

I am fortunate that in my current position I deal with some good HR folks. I actually have to routinely deal with the HR managers of two different business units because of where my responsibilities lie. This could be confusing by itself. I routinely have to partner with them on policy changes, career development, and performance issues. I have to direct my managers when to go to HR and often ask the tough questions. I am in an HR Manager’s office every other week. For a group I used to regularly avoid, I now find them invaluable.

Most of that is because of the shift of responsibility from a line manager to a middle manager. I’m running multiple groups and each group has unique needs. I may have a high performer in one group upset about pay while I have a manager in a different group asking about what kind of leadership training we might be offering this year. The requests, questions, and needs vary greatly and it would be unwise for me to address all of them myself. I regularly bump up against confidentiality and discriminatory issues and HR can help make sure that the response we give does not violate someone’s rights. I’m not even worried about a potential lawsuit, I just want to make sure that employee concerns or issues are addressed in an even-handed manner. At the end of the day I want people to go home thinking that they are returning to a good place to work. My partners in HR help me achieve that regularly.

If you’re like me and many of your interactions with HR has been negative, that can be a big hurdle to overcome. Like any team, not all HR personnel are going to be good at their job. At the same time, I feel like I owe it to my employees regardless to always be armed with the most accurate information around corporate policies and regulations. This was especially crucial around performance review time when we were helping people set goals.

So don’t be surprised if you see your director or VP in HR’s office a lot. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. What you really have to wonder is the middle manager who never leaves their desk. What do they do all day?

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Posted in Confessions
6 comments on “Confessions of a middle manager – Part 2 of many
  1. Justin Buck says:

    This is a great inside look. Often, we demonize HR or characterize them as gatekeepers. While both can be accurate, I’ve noticed HR morphing into something different recently. HR can be the department with the most potential to impact your team– through acquiring, developing, and recognizing great talent in your organization.

    • Rob Aught says:

      Thanks for dropping by. I think the real danger I’m bumping up against is that there are simply too many rules and regulations for me to know everything. It is frightening to think there are senior managers out there that might be making decisions assuming they know everything.

      We still deal with some HR reps that don’t seem interested in telling us everything we can’t do. I think with the economic bust though we finally saw some shrinkage in HR departments and HR professionals are starting to ask the question “Where can we provide value?” This seems to be a new development and a welcome one.

      • Scott Powell says:

        Rob I am interested in what you think the communication courses at Barry Wehmiller Universiy would do for middle mangers?

        Scott

        • Scott Powell says:

          And HR folks?

          SP

        • Rob Aught says:

          So I’m still looking into and at some of the material and information you sent me. The BWU Communication course looks interesting but so far I haven’t found anyone that can recommend it. I’m still looking around as I’m in a place I can recommend stuff to HR and really would like to know more.

          They say a lot of the right things. I’m a fan of the term “people-centric” and some of their communication concepts sound good on paper but it would be great if I knew someone who had taken the class and could share more of the syllabus. I did take a look at the course description they have posted on their website. (The PDF download was much more helpful than the website)

          If I understand the core concepts, they sound great on paper. I think the real catalyst will be the individual. Not every manager wants to be a leader.

          Whoops, that might be a future confessions post.

          I still need to watch Bob Chapman’s TED Talk. That might be what finally sells me.

      • Justin Buck says:

        Great points, Rob. It’s funny you mention adherence to the “rules”. Sometimes we make up rules of our own because it seems like things need to be more complicated! I just commented over on Dan Rockwell’s blog about how rules often cause people to feel LESS empowered and can cripple decision-making. Great point, too, about senior managers sometimes working on a God complex.

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