How much advertising will we buy next year? How should we configure our new warehouse? Is it time to upgrade our CRM system? Who is going to be fired?
When any decision includes a “people” element, the repercussions are often that little bit more complicated while the value is that little bit less tangible. Facebook will not have a tantrum if you cut back on advertising a little. Your warehouse won’t get all passive-aggressive about its new configuration. The CRM system won’t object to being upgraded.
People decisions, however, are infinitely more complicated, while at the same time being that bit harder (but not impossible) to measure. When the consensus is split about something that has been done in the past, it makes it harder to do it again in the future. That is what makes HR decisions so tricky to make. They are rarely black and white.
This when HR needs help.
If HR and the line managers in question work together closely to make the right decisions, their skills and knowledge combine to the best possible effect. It is no longer an HR decision; it is a business decision. However, all too often HR are left to carry the can on the more controversial decisions. Line managers are able to say “well it was HR’s call, what do you expect?”
In the grey areas of people management, it is this slippery shoulders approach that sinks many businesses. Lazy line managers don’t see the “people” decisions as falling under their remit, and as HR often has the final say, they take themselves out of the decision-making process entirely. No wonder HR are sometimes seen as being remote and out of touch with what is going on. The rest of the business doesn’t let them get close for fear of being associated with their decisions.
“It was HR that fired him, not me. Go and complain to them.”
It is often the case that HR have to go and dig for the facts before they make up their minds on various issues. If they aren’t actively helped by the line managers, they have to develop their own channels of influence. Middle management HR Managers are often great networkers, and they keep their fingers on the informal pulse of what is going on. They get far more information from their informal networks than they do from the board meetings, but even so, it would be so much easier if line managers would work with them that little bit more readily.
I don’t want to paint a picture that this happens in every business. There are many fantastic businesses where HR is an integral part of the decision-making mechanisms, and where every function sees the value in including them in the intimate details of what is going on. In those companies, making HR decisions is still tough, but not as tough as it could be.
When leaders embrace the difficulties in making people-related decisions, they will seek to collaborate in their resolution rather than avoiding the responsibility.