How HR Can Have a Good Relationship with Managers

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A key to building a good HR reputation is the relationship a company’s HR department has with its managers. If managers are unhappy with HR, it is likely that they are spreading that attitude to their employees. I have worked at companies where managers go out of their way to avoid HR. These also tend to be the kinds of places where HR people grumble about managers. So, how do we improve HR’s relationship with managers?

Establish Good Communication

I once worked at a company where the Operations Director told us he had met with managers, and they expressed their frustrations with HR. This man had a reputation for stirring things up, but I was still surprised because I always felt that our department had a good relationship with company managers. One of my HR colleagues and I were later talking to a manager, and we mentioned what the Operations Director said to us. She told us, “That’s funny because he told the management team that HR was frustrated with us.” Fortunately for everyone, the Operations Director left the company a few months later.

What saved us in this situation was the existing relationship we had with managers. Because of this, we were able to go directly to a manager to discuss the situation. Open communication is the foundation of a good relationship. Managers need to feel like they can talk to HR about anything. If managers do not feel comfortable with HR, it is likely they may sit on problems until they get so bad that HR has to get involved. This often makes things much more difficult to untangle.

When a manager comes to you with an issue, be a good listener and avoid being judgmental. Managing employees is challenging even for the best leader, so be accepting even when a manager admits they made a mistake. Doing so will help you work with that manager to find a solution.

Coach, Don’t Condemn

Managers have to abide by numerous policies, complete mountains of paperwork and oversee their employees. These are major responsibilities, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. I have witnessed HR colleagues who use these oversights as opportunities to condemn and even yell at the manager. If a manager fears such a response every time they come forward with a slip-up or to ask for an extension on HR paperwork, the likelihood that they will speak up decreases.

Instead of instantly jumping to an angry response, use the mistake or missed deadline as a moment to coach the manager. I think being an educator is an underrated part of our job in HR. Approach these conversations with education in mind. Teach and coach the manager on the proper process, give them tips for completing things like performance reviews on time or walk them through the specifics of a policy and why it is in place. In doing so, you are giving them the tools to work through similar problems on their own in the future.

Of course, sometimes disciplinary action is needed when a manager makes a mistake or fails to complete certain tasks. This still is not a reason to yell or have an angry response. Focus on supporting the manager by giving them the tools to improve.

See the Relationship as a Partnership

Rather than seeing the HR/manager relationship as one where one party has more power than the other, see it as a partnership. This means we are solving problems and completing projects together.

I have seen the advantages of building a good partnership with managers in the recruiting part of HR. One of the chief complaints I have heard from mangers at a variety of companies is that HR has too much control over the hiring process. An easy way to remedy this is working with hiring managers. For example, rather than simply relying on a job description, meet with the hiring manager to find out what they are looking for. Review your screening criteria with them, so they know your process for weeding out applications. Once I got managers to see how my early screening of applications was saving them time, they became more invested in HR’s role in the hiring process.

We need to approach the relationship with managers not as something adversarial, but as a partnership. I think it can be easy to become jaded in HR, especially because we often see the worst of employees and have to deal with some messy situations. It is important that we keep this out of our relationships with managers because working with them will ultimately help us improve the workplace.

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