Have we made a bad habit of organizing too much? Budgets, reporting structures and policies all must have some semblance of organization, but what about leadership? How are we “organizing” leadership responsibilities?
I recently spoke at a DisruptHR event where the conversations focused on how we can alter our perceptions and actions to match the current state of business. Those conversations started me thinking: Are we trying to compartmentalize responsibilities into certain departments or people, when we should be working on them together?
The responsibility of managing and leading people does not lie solely on the shoulders of the human resources (HR) team and HR wouldn’t expect each manager to work alone in these areas. While we know and understand this idea in theory, we aren’t doing a very good job of practicing it in reality.
Here’s an example: Manager Molly is frustrated when her people aren’t “doing things the right way,” and she goes to HR Harry for support (i.e., “We need to fire Employee Ed”). This conversation is the first HR Harry hears of Ed’s foibles. He inquires about the previous documentation of bad behavior, attendance or attitude and find that none exists. Manager Molly expresses her frustration with HR Harry’s lukewarm reception toward her request, and HR Harry doesn’t understand how she could think that they could take any action without documentation. Drama ensues.
Manager Molly and HR Harry are at odds, trying to manage the same situation with different perspectives and experiences. Molly thinks, “Harry requested to be in charge of every personnel matter, but now he won’t even help me!” Harry thinks, “I just taught a class for our managers on documentation and its importance; wasn’t Molly paying attention!?” Meanwhile, Employee Ed is getting away with bad behavior, dragging down morale on his team and reducing production.
Historically, we’ve accepted this situation as “the process.” It’s high time that we change our approach! Imagine this scenario instead: Molly keeps Harry in the loop with documentation, email updates, and even meetings with Ed and the two of them. Harry checks in regularly with Molly to ensure the improvement plan they put in place for Ed is working. Molly and Harry give each other a little grace, knowing that they are both busy, and show support through transparent communication and a united message.
Technical business processes are built in silos in order to track expenses, bottlenecks and revenue generation. That makes sense, but managing and leading people that way doesn’t. HR and managers must work together and look to each other as a resource, not an enemy.
It seems easy, so why don’t we do it? Here’s why:
HR is scary. The unknown is scary, and there’s a lot to know about employment law and leadership. Managers should ask questions, and human resources should be exactly that — a resource.
It takes time to do it right. The days of the loyalist generation are gone; employees want options and advancement. They want their questions answered, and they want to engage. Engage them, then! Hold them accountable, answer their questions and present a united front so everyone can see that the organization is built on support.
Our assumptions are wrong. We think people don’t want structure, but humans are tribal. We might not care for dictatorship, but we want some structure. Don’t fall victim to the assumption that people want an unstructured environment, even when they say they do. Children might ask for chocolate every hour on Easter, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for them.
Let’s stop compartmentalizing and making enemies within the organization. It’s hard enough to make alliances, friends and good decisions. Don’t make it harder. Leadership by silo is not a solution. Partner with managers, partner with HR, partner with safety … partner with all departments. The goal, after all, is to make the business more successful. I guarantee that all those folks are working toward that goal. Give them the chance to prove it.