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Face The Challenge - Sample Section, Chapter 13

Chapter Thirteen - Human Resources Management

"Human Resources Management" delves into current management practices and the effectiveness of human resources departments as they are commonly administered in today's organizations; discussing many of the undesirable elements of human resources departments, analyzing their causes, and providing the groundwork to effectively manage human resources departments and how to make the recommended management improvements. Human resources management also scrutinizes many negative behaviors of both Leaders and Human Resources managers and points to a more productive way of managing this interdepartmental relationship.


13.1 Misapplication of Resources.  The human resources (HR) or personnel function, as it is commonly integrated into the modern organization, offers individuals the highest degree of power or authority with as little corresponding accountability as will be found anywhere in the world of organized human endeavor.  And ironically this hierarchical idiosyncrasy arises from a general failure of supervisors at all echelons to achieve productive and congenial working relationships with their Subordinates.  But rather than improving the interactive and motivational skills of deficient supervisors, senior managers have almost universally opted to assign the "problem" of dealing with people to a separate department; further complicating an already burdensome situation by adding yet another layer of bureaucratic administration to the supervisory equation.  And though originally conceived as an adjunct department to allay the grievous labor relations practices of the greater supervisory multitudes, process the paperwork, and maintain personnel records; the human resources (HR) function has evolved into an administrative, mop-like contrivance to "clean up" people problems while the offending supervisors persist in their contentious and unproductive interactive behaviors.  Now after long practice, the human relations aspect of management is generally considered to be a sub-function of the supervisory experience that should rationally be delegated to a specialist much in the same way that the finance, legal, planning, marketing, construction, distribution, and purchasing functions are organized into separate Staff departments; rather than remaining an integral or inseparable part of the leadership assignment.  However, the essence of leadership effectiveness is dependent upon the strength of a supervisor's interactive skills and motivational abilities.  Thus supervisors at any echelon can no more successfully outsource (either internally or externally) their supervisory or disciplinary responsibilities regarding their Subordinates than they can successfully repudiate their responsibility for corporate profitability and hope to remain in position.  Consequently, all supervisors must take full responsibility for ensuring their competence in the human relations area with or without the assistance of an HR specialist.  And this critical responsibility cannot be successfully assigned or ignored.  For senior supervisors who assign the requisite functions of hiring, training, developing, supervising, disciplining, or terminating Subordinates to a human resources manager or even a junior supervisor have typically lost touch with these essential leadership functions; and thereby reduce their leadership role to that of an "empty suit" figurehead; often proving incapable of instilling confidence or inspiring their Subordinates, especially at the lower echelons.  Ultimately, senior managers must either recognize the potential pitfalls or failings of separating the HR function from the supervisory role and reintegrate such responsibilities into the Line management function wherever possible; or actively ensure a constructive working relationship between their HR specialists and the supervisors to whom they are assigned to support.


(A) As the near universal failure which results from segmenting the human resource function from the Line supervisor's responsibilities—irrespective of the HR manager's qualifications—is that the supervisors who are most in need of improved motivational and interactive skills remain underdeveloped, while the HR managers continually "smokejump" personnel flare-ups that such leadership shortcomings invariably ignite.  And while many developmental programs may be introduced to help resolve leadership deficiencies, they are typically poorly implemented, attempt to cover too much ground too rapidly, ignore individual capabilities, or are inadequately reinforced by senior management's leadership practices; and as a result, they fail more often than not to produce sustained long-term benefits.  In the worst cases such programs are administered by HR managers or outsiders who have little or no leadership experience themselves, and who subsequently lack credibility when trying to teach Line supervisors either fundamental or advanced leadership techniques.  Further depreciating the effectiveness of these programs is the fact that many senior managers view leadership training as a single-shot vaccination and everything will be fine scenario; rather than as a long-term comprehensive effort requiring among other things that they actively participate and change some of their own fundamentally unproductive attitudes.  Additionally, a major "part of the deficiency of the personality approach to human relations to help a supervisor become a more effective leader is the concentration often placed on changing his [her] behavior, rather than on developing his [her] perception in understanding people and situations so that he [she] can behave more wisely in making decisions and taking action" (Carvell, HRB p11).  Consequently, most of the supervisors being trained become highly defensive as they interpret such programs as trivializing their past accomplishments or belittling their leadership ability.


(B) Management consultants routinely promote leadership development programs with the understanding that the necessary administrative follow-up will be conducted by newly certified in-house specialists.  And assuming that the program developed has a sporting chance of resolving its supervisory difficulties, the client organization is still generally left with only a small core of wet-behind-the-ears neophytes who must often carry the supervisory revolution forward alone; with just the begrudging support of the organization's senior Leaders.  But without the full support and active participation of upper management, these new converts are unlikely to improve either leadership proficiency or Subordinate morale by themselves; as their efforts are continually undercut by the reflected perfunctory interest of the upper echelons in the middle management ranks.  Commonly, once the outside consultant has departed, the HR manager is assigned the responsibility for monitoring the progress of the new program, essentially making the HR manager the improved-leadership-skills policeperson to ensure its successful implementation.  Such assignments and similar follow-up activities (e.g., requests for overdue personnel reviews, missing I-9s, training reports, or insurance forms) only further aggravate any existing animosities, and intensify the perennial power struggle commonly found between Line supervisors and HR managers in the greater majority of today's organizations.


(C) These battle lines become even more deeply entrenched if the HR manager's judgment is increasingly used to second-guess or review the personnel decisions made by Line supervisors at various echelons.  For rather than developing the supervisor's interactive skills, knowledge, and discipline to maintain standard operating procedures regarding human resource issues; some HR managers persistently choose to closely administer a large part of the disciplinary process themselves, essentially handcuffing those supervisors whose judgment is continually being questioned or overruled.  And due to the influence that an HR manager typically has with their superior, few middle managers ever willingly risk incurring an HR manager's wrath by challenging his or her decisions, pushing back, or trying to regain control of what is essentially their responsibility: the selecting, training, supervising, and disciplining of their Subordinates.  As a result, supervisors confronted with this common dilemma may prefer to endure mediocre or even substandard Subordinate performance rather than risk incurring the negative political repercussions or possible censure that is inherent to diligently administering a constructive discipline process under these circumstances.


(D) HR managers are also normally privy to the "inside scoop" regarding the middle-echelon supervisor's career prospects; and consistently play a disproportionate role in impacting the careers of those Leaders with whom they work, either through direct recommendations or subtle innuendoes.  As HR managers at any echelon often enjoy high visibility and access to Leaders at all echelons, in addition to directly influencing the opinions of the senior HR managers to whom they directly report.  Such influence can and frequently does reflect the HR manager's subjective view of how he or she surmises or feels a supervisor should be, irrespective of the quality or accuracy of his or her emotive wisdom.  And if disparaging or just slightly derogatory in nature, even an HR manager's casual comments can forever impair the subject supervisor's advancement prospects or career standing.  For if an HR manager—regardless of his or her position within the hierarchy—only insinuates to a senior supervisor that a lower-echelon supervisor is deficient in any way (e.g., not really a people person, overly serious or somewhat tactless, or a little rough around the edges), it is all but impossible for the stigmatized supervisor to rebut that impression.  The classic career coup de grāce adroitly administered by an antagonistic HR manager usually being the spuriously erudite statement that the supervisor or employee in question "is very intelligent and has good ideas; but he or she is not a good team player."  Often being more accurately interpreted that he or she is unwilling to knuckle under to the HR manager.  And though deceptively high sounding, this unconscionably vague depiction of his or her interactive talents can forever haunt the disfavored supervisor's impression with upper management; and again, is nearly impossible for him or her to effectively refute.  Thus the actual or potential abuse of this implied or unwarranted power that is indirectly bequeathed to the human resources department by a passive or interactively incapacitated senior management group constrains the initiative, candor, and objectivity of all those who have direct contact with HR managers; and seriously corrupts their value or effectiveness as an advisory resource.


(E) Additionally, there is a growing, well-intentioned, organizational trend to extend employment benefits to include counselors to help employees through their personal crises (e.g., death in family, drugs or alcohol abuse, emotional or marital problems).  These services are typically furnished by an outside agency and are supposedly provided on a strictly confidential basis to the organization's employees.  However, this confidentiality can be compromised when these agencies submit invoices identifying the individuals assisted to justify their fees.  With such information invariably working its way back to the HR manager and the individual's supervisor and negatively influencing his or her career prospects.  And though possibly useful for such therapeutic purposes, these agencies are far less effective when used to intervene on behalf of employees or to mediate conflicts or issues that arise during the normal course of supervision.  Such situations being better settled by a well respected open-door policy, with the supervisor's immediate superior and the assigned human resources manager, if any, acting as the potential moderator.  For adding an EAP (employee assistance provider) advisor to the supervisory equation only serves to further erode the Line manager's authority and responsibility, while dramatically increasing the amount of time and paperwork necessary to resolve the related supervisory issues.  And shame on any supervisor who is so interactively obtuse as to need the assistance of a third party arbitrator.

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© Copyright 2006 by H. Garrett Hayward from Face the Challenge: The Leader's Success Handbook