Empowering managers to own people matters

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Lizzie Buxton

6th September 2021

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How we see this dynamic changing with the emergence from lockdown and other restrictions

In any successful operating model, line managers are the linchpin of effective employee relations – playing a pivotal role in not only managing people and operations day-to-day, but also in implementing HR and other organisational policies. Pre-COVID, managers taking greater ownership of people matters within an organisation was often an aspiration, however, as we emerge from restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the aspiration is increasingly becoming a necessity.

Why now?

One of the most notable changes brought about by the pandemic has been the global overnight shift to remote working for many workforces. While not every company is impacted, it is looking likely that working from home, or remotely, will remain an important part of many people’s ways of working. Take companies such as Twitter, Capital One and Microsoft for example, who have all announced plans to adopt a hybrid workplace, offering employees greater flexibility once the pandemic subsides.

The increase in these different ways of working has accelerated the need for business leaders to rethink many of its practices, including the changing relationship between the organisation and the HR function.

The impact on HR trends

Our Business Development Manager, Anna Kellett, talks to a lot of HR leaders about their challenges and aspirations, and explains why this new way of working has implications for a number of HR trends: “For people management, one of the biggest impacts of these new ways of working is the reduction in face-to-face time, not only between the manager and HR, but also between the manager and the employee. For managers, checking up on employees while they are working from home will become much more difficult, and for HR it will be harder to keep a finger on the pulse of its workforce.

“Secondly, in a hybrid world, the reliance on technology to keep us connected and more efficient in our roles, is greater than ever. Workplaces have had to adapt their technologies to support remote workers; to enable communication, collaboration, meetings, creativity and sharing content, and must continue to do so to ensure the productivity of remote and hybrid employees. Organisations that had included ‘digitalise processes’ or ‘update work from home strategies’ on their 1-3 year plans, are being forced to address these initiatives now.”

The pressures for HR

At the height of the pandemic, the role of HR was to power through, looking after everyone else in the company. However now, business leaders need to be proactive in supporting HR functions as they recover from their pandemic efforts and recognise that their roles have evolved and will be even more relevant in this new world.

As we ease our way out of restrictions, there will be a clear divide between organisations that supported their employees’ wellbeing and those who didn’t. How organisations treat and support their employees going forward will define their employer brands, well beyond the crisis.

HR’s role post-pandemic will be to ensure that employee wellbeing and treatment is optimised and effective. Timely and direct people management is fundamental to this.

As organisations re-evaluate post-restriction budgets, the financial spotlight will be turned on all business functions and HR will be no exception. HR teams will need service operating models that put the employee first, deliver a high quality service and are cost-effective. A key enabler to this will be technology that offers opportunities to reduce the HR cost to serve and meet future challenges.

HR leaders’ perceived barriers to making this change

  • Lack of manager enablement

For HR to focus on key strategic issues, they need time and resource to do so. Often, HR teams are drawn into issues that do not merit their attention because managers may lack the confidence, capability and resources to be able to address matters early and informally. Though managers are the front line employee relations, HR is ultimately on the hook for how people matters are handled in their organisation. To empower managers and give them greater ability to deal with people matters, they need to have the skills and resources to deliver confidently and consistently, in a more autonomous way.

  • Dependency on HR

Some managers may not fully accept their own accountability for managing their team members and instead, want HR to take care of the issue for them. In this case, avoidance can often be based on a lack of skills or confidence when dealing with people matters and managers may be worried about getting into tough territory or getting it wrong. Whatever the reason, it leaves HR professionals becoming involved in reactive, tactical delivery rather than strategic delivery. This cycle can be broken by investing in the tools to support managers to take greater ownership of people matters, in a guided and risk-managed way.

  • Resistance to change

Whether driven by the manager themselves through custom and practice or a misguided notion that people management is someone else’s responsibility, or extraneous factors like unions, HR leaders may face resistance to change. But there is no better time to empower managers, with an almost universal recognition that working practices are changing and forward-thinking organisations will be driving that change pre-emptively.

  • Capacity to make the changes

HR teams have been at the centre of the pandemic and it’s fair to say that resources have been stretched over the past 18 months. However, to succeed in the driver’s seat and maintain its newfound position into 2021, HR must lead – and accelerate – digital transformation that’s been a popular, but not always aggressively driven, HR trend for years. Leaders should seize this opportunity to reinvent the workplace for the digital era and think about the long-term gains of digitalising ER processes.

Our predictions

Future organisational success lies in being intentional about creating sustainable working conditions that maximise employees’ engagement, boost efficiency and increase productivity.

Central to this is digitally simplifying employee relations processes, empowering managers and enabling them to have greater responsibility for people matters in a risk managed way. The results will drive HR efficiencies, enable HR to deliver the organisation’s post-pandemic strategy, and drive business impact through technology. In our experience, this is one of the biggest skill gaps in HR and one that has become even more pressing in this new, more remote, reality.

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