This week’s letters

Involving middle managers can raise the strategic game

Cheer up HR. There is an obvious antidote for the depressive HR profession
(Off Message, 6 July), which can add meaning, prove the worth of your existence
and add value to your organisation in business transformation. It’s called
‘being more strategic’ and has proven highly effective for middle managers in
HR – and for their counterparts elsewhere in the organisation.

Traditionally, HR has targeted the middle management layer as an easy option
when downsizing. However, there is high risk in taking out a pool of talent and
experience that in reality could be leveraged for moving the organisation
forward. Why should senior managers and executives be expected to come up with
all the answers when they yearn for more information to be fed upwards to make
better, higher quality strategic decisions?

The wake-up call to the profession – and the key finding of Personnel
Today’s UK Line Managers Survey – is that line managers do not have the
necessary skills to drive their organisations forward. At Roffey Park, our own
Management Agenda Survey 2003 echoes these results, highlighting that middle
managers are not providing a clear direction to their team – and that this is
holding organisations back from high performance.

So how does HR look outward and be less operational, more strategic? We
would suggest that middle managers in HR can help themselves and ultimately the
organisation by seizing more opportunities. External and internal scanning is
part of this, but they should also engage in the language of strategy and
communicate in a way that ensures alignment to business goals.

The language of strategy used in organisations can be confusing. For
example, take the word ‘strategy’. Ask for a definition and several answers
will be forthcoming. This will be the same for ‘vision’, ‘goal’, ‘purpose’,
‘objective’, and so on. HR can play a meaningful role by ensuring that these
definitions are discussed and agreed.

A number of HR activities can be defined as strategic, such as succession
planning. However, middle managers should also be assessing and communicating
the business implications of new information to senior managers. They should be
searching for new opportunities and bringing these to the attention of senior
managers, easing policies and procedures to get new projects started and
monitoring activities to ensure they support top-level management objectives.

HR middle managers must understand the link between strategy and change.
Their role should not just be to implement policy; they should understand the
need for change, help prepare for it, stimulate it and manage it. This has
implications in terms of updating role descriptions, performance measurement
and ultimately pay. However, it’s a real opportunity to add value and be
instrumental in achieving business goals.

HR can take a lead role in encouraging its own middle managers to seek an
enhanced role for themselves in addition to encouraging middle management in
their organisation. Yes, this will make it more challenging for HR to identify
in tough times where downsizing needs to occur. But it is far better to create
a management force that will ultimately be able to get the organisation where
it needs to go.

There are obviously strong business benefits in getting a wider group of
people thinking and acting strategically and able to contribute to the
strategic development of the organisation. By supporting the involvement of middle
managers, HR can help organisations create a higher sense of purpose, improve
the quality of strategic decision-making and increase, through more ideas,
strategic options.

Middle managers themselves will be able to add further value to the
organisation and will have a greater sense of ownership of the resulting

So HR middle managers, take heart. Being more strategic could be your answer
to looking outwards instead of inwards and thus finding more meaning in what
you do.

Claire McCartney, Researcher
Linda Holbeche, Director of Research
Roffey Park

Editor’s reply: Look out next week for our continuing new series on
HR Strategy, which offers our readers a unique chance to solve strategic

Count to 10 to keep stress levels down

For industry, the signing off of employees as sick can create a considerable
burden, both financial and in terms of day-to-day production. And employees are
too often being signed off with no consideration given to whether they are fit
or not to do their jobs (news, 19 July).

The system as it stands needs to be radically changed so that those doctors
signing people off sick are held more accountable for their actions. One
solution could be that the hospital, practice or clinic foots the statutory
sick pay bill for the duration that the person is ill, unless the illness is
directly attributable to the ‘sick’ person’s work environment – ie, a workplace

We currently employ staff in a manual capacity that involves the repetitive
stacking of product. The basic requirement is that they can count to 10. Where
is the stress in that?

It would appear, however, that our local GPs feel that this is a
particularly stressful line of work judging by the sick notes received for
stress, depression and so on.

Stressed out personnel manager

Details supplied

Heal thyself: get an on-site physician

I could not agree more with your front page article (News, 19 August).

GPs should be held more accountable for their inability to diagnose
problems. And it is not simply a question of signing someone back to work or

The reasons provided are at times insulting to the employer. For instance,
diagnosis comments such as ‘sore knee’ or ‘bruised hand’ are surely
observations more than anything else. But who are we to argue as their word is
on its own unquestionable.

Therefore, the only effective route is for companies to use either in-house
or contracted occupational physicians.

But lets not tarnish all GPs with the same brush. It is a few, and there
tends to be a pattern especially with localised surgeries and particular GPs.

Jonathan Moffat
HR manager, OCS Security Services

High-stress culture is often embedded

The reaction of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the CBI to the health
and Safety Executive’s (HSE) landmark enforcement notice against West Dorset
Hospitals NHS Trust – requiring it to assess stress levels among its doctors
and nurses, and introduce a programme to reduce these or face prosecution if it
fails – is at the best misguided and at the worst misleading (News, 19 August).

Not all managers are as caring for their employees as the IoD and CBI would
like them to be, and there are organisations in which a stress-inducing work
culture is as ‘institutionalised’ as racism or sexism were until similar
legislation was introduced to stop them. Some managers are even proud of this
fact, believing that unrealistic deadlines and work pressures are the best way
of getting their employees to perform.

This is not the way forward for UK plc. To create an environment that
fosters old-fashioned tenets such as loyalty and commitment, employers and
employees need to work together for the overall benefit of the business. Those
organisations that fail in this regard should rightly face prosecution, as the
HSE is proposing.

The HSE’s actions have been interpreted in some quarters as supporting the
rights of employees against those of employers. Yet the fact is that bullied,
overworked and mismanaged employees will not be as productive as those who work
in an environment that encourages health, well-being and resilience. By forcing
organisations to take positive action to ensure this, the HSE is acting in the
best interests of employees and employers alike, and should be applauded for
doing so.

Carole Spiers
Business Stress Consultant, Carole Spiers Group

Long hours do not cause extra stress

The Government is suggesting longer holidays. The EU wants a shorter working
week. The courts have ruled workers can sue for stress. These stories are said
to be symptomatic of an overworked Britain.

In fact, the latest survey shows that 41 per cent of Britons are ‘very
satisfied’ at work, compared with only 25 per cent of the French, whose working
week is capped at 35 hours.

In our experience in the recruitment industry, long hours and responsibility
don’t cause stress by themselves. When work is enjoyable and rewarding, hours
fly by. Problems occur when people are placed in the wrong positions. After
all, one person’s stressful situation is another’s exciting challenge.

We have a responsibility to help more people find fulfilling roles. That
way, we will create a more prosperous economy and a happier country.

Julia Fraser
Managing director, Recruitment Solutions Group

Top-level stagnation holds back UK plc

I was not at all taken aback to see that research released this month found
that just one in five senior managers throughout FTSE100 companies have a
technical background, whereas 90 per cent of chief executives are degree

At a time when boardroom diversity is under the spotlight, particularly
following the publication of the Higgs Report, this survey highlights the great
extent of the skills divide at the top.

And this should come as no surprise to HR practitioners, who for decades
have been considered secondary to other disciplines when it comes to board promotion.
While the situation has improved to a great extent in recent years, the value
that a strategically focused HR practitioner can add to a business has yet to
be realised by many senior management teams.

Given that technology and people form the backbone of almost every
organisation, it does confound that such little emphasis is placed upon their
management at the highest level. It appears shortsighted and stagnant that
British business has failed to transform the make-up of management in
accordance with changing business processes.

Some may argue that technically-minded professionals and HR practitioners do
not have the skills necessary to ascend to the board. However, while there is a
need for an understanding of the intricacies of the corporate world, of equal
importance is the sheer wealth of knowledge and ability to manage complex
processes and issues that they bring.

Certainly, I wouldn’t suggest that all management professionals be
superceded by IT and HR specialists, but in light of the present imbalance
change does need to occur.

Balance sheets, profit and loss and financial reporting are essential to the
continuation of a business, but equally important are the people that make it

Ian Sharland
Managing director, LogicaCMG Enterprise Services

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