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A Game of H-O-R-S-E

May 19, 2011

Paul Hebert wrote a post over at Fistful of Talent the other day that made me sit up when I read it.  Then I read it again.  Here’s the part that grabbed me:

“And… since HR is responsible (IMHO) for human “capital” – and Managers are human capital – ipso facto: HR is responsible for Manager’s ability to engage employees.

That means HR is responsible for training, for interventions, for discussions, for help, for suggesting re-assignment, etc.

HR needs to be the department that ensures managers aren’t the problem.  Saying managers are at fault is the same as a sales person saying it is the client’s fault for not buying. Your job is to enhance management skill sets so you have engaged employees.”


Good take on this.  I’ve certainly seen this play out one of two ways;  Scenario 1: we in HR get all hung up on the idea that we’re supposed to be the ones engaging the entire workforce and then we kvetch and moan and point out that there is no possible way that we can possibly ensure engagement occurs at the micro/frontline levels where managers have that responsibility.   And sometimes it’s Scenario 2: we point to the managers/ leaders in our companies and we talk about the need for them to ‘step up and do their jobs.’  And then we sit back.

Now I’ve been in organizations where both of those scenarios played out. I’ve been part of those conversations with co-workers, bosses, and peers/colleagues from other companies.  However, as Paul points out, it becomes the role of HR to train, intervene, discuss, coach and provide assistance.  We have an obligation to work up and down through multiple levels and define expectations and accountability measures.

Needless to say, along the way we hit plenty of roadblocks.  We inherit long-standing practices, policies, cultures, systems and “ways of doing things.”  We know that Joe Manager reports to Sally Director who reports to John VP who reports to Trixie EVP and we discover that Trixie has a powerful grip and pretty specific views on how HER areas need to function – and they may not be in alignment with what the HR Leader has in mind.

Now I’m not making excuses  for HR people who want to, as Paul points out, “pass the ball.”  But sometimes bad things happen to good HR people.  And sometimes good HR people land in complex organizations where there is not accountability for managers and their EFFECTIVENESS as managers…and never has been.  If Trixie has never effectively managed John, he has had no role model for managing Sally…and so on and so forth.  And Sally, god bless her, may not even WANT Joe to attend leadership/management training because then Joe will find out all the things that she’s been neglecting.

How’s THAT for a cultural/organizational challenge?


Now I’ll add to Paul’s list, for I think there are other ways that HR can shape a culture of engagement and stop passing the buck ball to others.  We can:

  • Ensure our organizations provide meaningful opportunities for career advancement, learning and growth
  • Drive effective internal employee communication programs
  • Create a culture/system that ensures when feedback is asked for and/or gathered that action steps are taken
  • Ensure that all leaders/managers up and down the organization understand the expectations we have of them
  • Make sure those managers are equipped, trained and coached in HOW to meet those expectations
  • Determine organizationally appropriate ways to ensure accountability so we can know that managers ARE providing feedback, talking to their staff members and sharing information

Do HR folks like to pass the ball?  Perhaps. I do know that we sure enjoy sitting around and commiserating about our commonalities and shared experiences.  Plus it’s easy, and kind of fun, to blame managers.

But I’ve got to get out there on the court with Paul on this one.  If we want to be relevant in our organizations, we DO need to be the ones enhancing the managers’ skill sets so we have engaged employees.

Now who’s with me?  Game of H-O-R-S-E?

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