Re-imagining the workplace: Dear line managers; No, it’s not an HR issue

There is a tendency by line to view themselves not as total people managers, thinking that when they fail to mange their people, it should be easy for them to take that complicated issue and leave it at the door of the HR manager because he is the only people manager.

BHEKILIZWE BERNARD NDLOVU It’s not an HR issue at all. You get such statements most of the time when line comes to HR and dumps people issues in the name of it has become an HR issue.

There is a tendency by line to view themselves not as total people managers, thinking that when they fail to mange their people, it should be easy for them to take that complicated issue and leave it at the door of the HR manager because he is the only people manager. Interestingly HR managers managing big organisations will have their own team to manage and if line attitude is that all people issues are HR issues then that particular HR person has a lot to deal with.

There are organisations for example, where safety, health and environment (SHE) fall under HR. So, he or she has safety officers, general cleaners who keep the environment clean, nurses who man the clinic if there is an internal clinic, canteen stuff if the canteen is not outsourced and many other roles.

In some instances where the canteen is outsourced, he still manages the tender holder and even when it’s a cleaning company taking care of cleaning. So, she has a lot to do in terms of workload. We also make a lot of assumptions regarding the HR person’s ability to manage people, regarding their capabilities.

Human resources management, just like any other form of management training, does have leadership as a component and it is that leadership that sets apart good leaders from bad ones when it comes to people management.

A production manager can take leadership seriously and outdo an HR manager or practitioner at any level. It’s leadership at that level and everyone entrusted with the task of managing people is a people manager and they can get fascinated with this beautiful job to the extent of becoming an inspirer and motivator of his people who will churn out great results because of the way they are treated.

Let’s make this easy for all to see and understand. The finance department manages finance in the workplace, but you have all departments coming up with their own budgets and submitting them to finance.

Once that has been done, and the IT department’s budget has been passed at the budget meeting, for example, it is up to the IT manager to use that money according to budget requirements.

Even ministries in government have ministers submitting ministerial budgets that get passed at the budget meeting and ministers have the right to then go ahead and work, sending requisitions if they want to use their money to the Finance department, not because it has become a finance issue, but because, if you have a village background like me, finance is the greenery where the money is stored but the authority, once the budget is passed, lies with the user department.

Similarly, line managers have manpower plans based on different variables and needs. A financial year may require that a manager does a manpower plan and needs to hire some new employees because there is a new skill, knowledge, or attitude requirement they don’t have but will be needing it going forward.

They might decide to either train if anyone has the training pre-requisites and it’s more cost effective to do so, or hire a new employee. When the manpower plan is done and passed at the budget meeting, the right to implement that is now in the hands of line. They will have a system to access the money and the people they have budgeted for. HR and finance do have a role to play but the man in charge is the user department manager and not the service departments.

How come when it comes to the financial resource, we are eager to control it and lead in the direction we have budgeted for but when something goes wrong with the human resource it becomes an HR issue? We need to consider the many disadvantages that come with this challenge, the main one being that most line managers do not invest in people leadership based on the belief that it is the human resources person only who should know how to handle people.

When there is no investment in people dynamics by the leader it is unlikely that they will be able to build working teams. How would they build teams using a resource they do not quite understand? Such teams are disjointed, politicking, and working in silos, robbing organisations of what they would do if they had good leadership.

It makes serious business sense for a manager to view themselves as achieving results through other people. This is something managers meet when they study management at different levels, that a manager achieves results through other people.

If my job involves using a computer to achieve results, I need to understand the computer, ensure that it’s well taken care of and serviced so that I get the best out of it.

A good manager and leader, whether line or staff manager invests in people leadership, or they risk just surviving as a leader with many loose ends that are never fixed.

A line manager, for instance, needs to take deep interest in the welfare of the people he leads. If it is company policy that a company representative should visit an employee who has had a death in the family, the line manager should be the first to put up his hand and go and be part of the funeral wake because he leads that person.

Most organisations refer such matters to HR, and this affects relationship growth and the rapport a team needs to thrive. Yes, let HR administer that and make sure that there is policy implementation but avoid usurping that function because it belongs to the leader of that specific person.

The same principle applies to matters of discipline. When there is a disciplinary matter in a line manager’s department, they must take interest in the code of conduct, understand progressive disciplining principles, know the section of the code they would need to use should there be need to start a disciplinary process.

They go to HR only because it is HR that takes care of that process and guides the process. Taking such matters lightly and thinking that a line manager can just take an employee committing an act of misconduct and dump him or her at the HR office has seen organisations using wrong processes and putting HR under pressure to dismiss or discipline when the line manager could have followed a more organised process and got assistance from HR to do a good job of managing people.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organisation as a learning and development specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on [email protected]

Related Topics