Organizations experience constant fictions between the human resources department and line managers on acquisition, allocation and management of human resources. Both feel strongly that they are solely responsible for managing people and business performance, and overlook possible collaboration that could enrich human resources for better performance.
The human resources managers perceive line managers as arrogant, overbearing and meddlesome; the line managers see the human resources department as bureaucratic, reactive and inflexible to business changing realities and the clients they serve.
Consequently, the line managers loathe the human resources department and as much as possible try to avoid them when they need to manage their team members. Some go to the extreme of creating a parallel human resources function within their own department in direct confrontation with the human resources managers.
In organizations where management considers human resource as an administrative support role, there is bound to be constant conflict over the duty, relevance and significance of the human resource department.
However, this conflict is less obvious when human resources management is construed as a management function where the human resources managers operate at strategic partnership level and offer functional support to the executive management as business partners.
This is when the organization itself places a premium on human resources and commits the responsibility for human resources management to the capable hands of a senior executive who reports to the management instead of a junior officer or a non-professional.
The battle for the management of human resources is a high stake phenomenon because the motivation and welfare of the employees on one hand, and productivity and profitability of the organization on the other are involved. The human resources department and line managers usually clash about team, culture, learning and productivity.
Line managers are technical people and have their ideas about how they should drive their team members. Also, the human resources managers pride themselves as the most qualified within the organization to know about people, and assume the responsibility of harmonizing the various line managers’ ideals into a wholesome entity to minimize confusion and divergent corporate cultures that could ensue.
Line managers are considered individuals in the middle or upper middle level management of the organizational structure with authority and responsibility for directly interfacing with employees and teams in order to launch products to the market, drive productivity, satisfy the customers demand and earn revenue. It could also refer to all team leaders and supervisors with technical expertise and have responsibilities on the management hierarchy to manage the business and drive performance of people towards achieving everyday business objectives.
Line managers have responsibilities for managing the day-to-day operations of the business and ensuring that their employees play their roles towards actualization of set objectives. They are responsible for planning job schedules, allocating of work and monitoring work done and the quality of performance. They are responsible for implementing the processes for income generation and sustenance of business relationships with clients and customers. They also manage operational costs.
The complexities of managing businesses today have increased the scope of work and span of control of line managers in managing operational resources as well as their involvement in managing people.
It is a common practice to see the human resources department get their input or concurrence on broad ranging issues of recruitment and selection, crafting job description, on-boarding exercise, placement on the job, job enrichment, on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring, performance evaluation, staff discipline and consequences management.
Ironically, this involvement in the core functional duties of the human resources manager is the major source of conflict between the line managers and human resource managers. Whilst the line managers ruminate over the continued significance of human resources department, the human resources managers are threatened that line managers are taking over their jobs and not giving them space to effectively discharge their duties.
More often than not, the thinking of the line managers is that if they have to carry out their technical functions and manage their people, and the human resources managers are only good as rubber stamp or administrative endorser of implementation of their people management programme, the value that the department is adding to the organization is suspect. The human resources managers may not be in a position to advise them but should simply take their programme as the Holy Grail and implement in respect of their team members. This line of thinking appears valid on face value, but the human resource managers do not think so.
For example, when the line manager wants an employee sent on suspension, the human resource manager should proceed to prepare the memo and ask the employee to leave the premises without asking any questions or subjecting the requests to the human resources policies and procedures to determine the veracity, logicality, legality and morality of such request.
In this circumstance, the human resources managers assert that they have legal and moral obligations to define how people are managed, implement the management process and equip the line managers with all the necessary tool-kits and skill sets required to successful manage the people.
Without this, the organization cannot build its competitive advantage around its people. It will be difficult to have an integrated approach to people engagement, and there will be problems with leadership and teamwork.
Going back to our case study, the suspension of an employee could have a legal repercussion for the organization if the employee has been wrongly treated in the face of the Labour Law. The line manager may not be mindful of this reality. He just wants to get rid of the allegedly incompetent team member from his team without following the due process of the human resources policies or Labour Law.
But, the human resources managers often step in to insist that the laws and due process should be respected, and conflicts usually occur as the line managers think that the human resource managers are trying to teach them how to do their work or manage their team when all they should do is just suspend or terminate the employees and work through the legal or moral details.
(To be Concluded)
Author: Babatunde Fajimi
First published in The Union Newspaper on Sunday, June 7, 2015.