HR vs the line manager: how to make strategy a reality

HR teams are expected to excel at everything from payroll to employee wellbeing, despite their resources being squeezed. How can they get line managers on board to ease the pressure? Hay Group’s Adam Burden finds out.

HR teams are feeling the strain. From delivering transactional services, to engaging employees and fulfilling people’s needs, to supporting long-term business aims, they are juggling a myriad of responsibilities while facing tighter budgets than ever before.

Last year, Hay Group’s Bringing the Line to Life research showed that 94% of HR directors’ departments had been reduced as part of company cost savings. At the same time, line managers are increasingly relying on their HR teams to give them the information they need for everyday decision making.

The result is a strain between teams that threatens the peace within organisations and the smooth implementation of people and business strategies. More than one-third (38%) of HR directors we surveyed agree or strongly agree that their teams spend too long dealing with straightforward requests from line managers.

In addition, the same number of HR directors estimated that their teams spend up to one-third of their time dealing with such matters, which prevents them from playing a more strategic role within their companies.

Adding to their woes, nearly two-thirds of HR directors said line managers want immediate responses to queries and “are unforgiving if the process takes longer”. Taking the opposing perspective, half of line mangers do not agree that they have adequate support from HR to be good managers. Somewhat alarmingly, four in ten said that Google is a better source of HR information than their own HR team.

The business implications

Thomas Edison once said “strategy without implementation is hallucination.” Companies invest huge amounts of time and money to research and define their strategy. Successful implementation, however, requires the defining of well-thought-out policies and procedures that can be rolled out organisation-wide by managers.

The tension between HR and line managers becomes an obstacle to putting strategy-aligned policies and procedures into action. Managers are left feeling frustrated and their teams are left in the dark. As a result, companies find it harder to pursue their goals than they may have hoped.

To address this issue, HR and the line must find a smarter way of working together. The most successful organisations give managers better sight of strategy-aligned HR information, such as reward policies or grading procedures. This enables managers to be clearer with their teams and make decisions more efficiently.

In turn, HR departments spend less time responding to requests for information, seeing as the managers already have access to it. This enables them to spend more time pursuing their strategic objectives.

Unleash the power of technology

The message from line managers is clear: most agree or strongly agree that they could make better, faster decisions if the HR team shared more information. But how can this be done with limited HR resources?

More than one HR director in 10 in our survey cited slow adoption of technology as a key challenge. And yet technology has the potential to play a crucial role in any solution intending to minimise strain between the two groups. It can help to deliver information within company policy directly into the hands of the people who drive performance when and where they need it.

Mobile tools and applications have been developed to provide HR policy and information as well as continuous, on-the-job learning for line managers. The Hay Group, for example, offers applications that can be pre-loaded by HR with salary bands, staff rosters, grades and locations, as well as offering direct access to the group’s pay and benefits database.

Other applications can provide managers with tailored tasks and guidance on a daily basis, to ensure they are developing their leadership styles regularly and effectively, outside of formal training environments.

While this allows line managers flexibility, it is done within a framework of policies so that HR remains in control and decides exactly what information their managers have access to.

Developments in technology – particularly in mobile technology – offer a golden opportunity to give line managers the information they need, as and when they need it. As long as HR professionals, as the “owner” of the policies, maintain control by facilitating the technology, it could help the groups to start to partner more effectively.

At the same time, the HR department can be freed up for more strategic activities – resolving tensions between HR and the line manager and enabling companies to achieve their strategic goals more effectively.

About Adam Burden

Adam Burden is a consultant at Hay Group
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