The State Of Relations Between HR And Line Managers

Submitted By saulandrew123
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Pull together a group of human resources professionals, ask them about the state of relations between HR and line managers, and they ll likely tell you something like: "HR has moved away from its administrative role and has become a full and strategic partner in the business." In fact, two-thirds of HR executives recently surveyed by The Conference Board said their companies are now engaged in some type of HR transformation process in order to become more of a "strategic partner," "change agent" and "employee champion." Sounds pretty promising, doesn t it? But if you want to know what line managers really think of HR, ask someone like Ray Jones (a pseudonym), a manager at American Express Corporate Travel Services based in San Francisco. "HR is out to lunch," he says with disgust. "Because they re sheltered from the real world of irate customers and problem employees, the only way they know how to solve problems is to go by the book." While it s tempting to disregard Jones comments as those of a disgruntled corporate clone, the fact of the matter is that HR still has an image problem with its chief internal customer: the line manager. Yes, the relationship is getting better in many companies. But work remains to be done. Understanding why the relationship is so tenuous, what the line needs to be successful, and what steps HR can take to be a good partner can help alleviate the decades-old tension between these two entities. The world of business is simply too complex for HR to continue to play mailman to the line manager s Doberman pinscher or vice versa. A short history.

In the olden days say, 10 to 15 years ago HR was seen as nothing more than an administrative bureaucracy. "We were helpful in processing benefit claims and lining up applicants, but we weren t seen as a mainstream part of the business," explains Frank Z. Ashen, senior vice president of HR at the New York Stock Exchange. In fact, personnel professionals, as they were called at the time, were even taught to think as outsiders. "In 1978, in my first personnel class in college, my instructor made it very clear that personnel people are not managers, and that we shouldn t regard ourselves are part of the business," recalls Tom Hirons, director of the Graduate Management Institute at Ashland University in Columbus, Ohio. "My professor reinforced the notion that HR is merely an add-on administrative cost." Because of the administrative slots they had been shoved into, HR had little power and influence. All power resided with line managers, who had very little if any respect for the back office, paper-pushing personnel bureaucrats.

The fact of the matter is that HR still has an image problem with its chief internal customer: The line manager.

But in the last decade, the sweeping changes in business have significantly changed not only the role of HR, but the role of line managers as well. Today, due to such things as downsizing, reengineering and self-directed work teams, there are fewer line managers to go around, and those who remain have much greater responsibilities. They re managing more people and/or bigger projects, and they re being called on to make quicker business decisions. As Steve McElfresh, president and CEO of the Saratoga Institute Inc., an HR consultancy in Santa Clara, California, explains: "Before, line managers were masters of routine. Now they must be masters of change." But that s not all. The primary responsibility for managing the new deal in employment relationships has also fallen squarely on the shoulders of line managers. They re being called on to develop, motivate and communicate with employees to an unprecedented extent. Why? "Because studies have shown that people don t leave companies, they leave managers," explains Brian Hackett, senior program manager of The Conference Board in New York City. Because line managers have been saddled with so much more leadership responsibility, they ve