One of my (HR) friends was recently tapped to step into a senior leadership role within his organization while the incumbent takes a temporary leave of absence: The position is several steps up from his previous role concerning most matters of job accountability, complexity, and scope. We’ve had several conversations about his experiences to date; during these conversations he’s talked through his biggest challenges and key learnings. Of the many takeaways he’s come away with (and there are enough to fill their own post), I found one particularly powerful. He communicated to me (paraphrasing):
“Finding a way to support all of my managers without getting mired in the day-to-day stuff has been the toughest part. When I was supporting three managers at three sites I could get really involved in project minutia and processes and provide really hands-on support for all of their problems. Now that I’m supporting 10+ managers, however, I have to delegate more and trust people to follow through on the tactical stuff/button everything up.”
My friend was speaking to something that most leaders eventually encounter as their roles (and the stakeholders they’re accountable to) continue to grow: Once a job gets big enough, individual talent and raw work ethic alone stops being enough to get superior results. There’s just too much to do. At this point success become contingent on the ability of one’s direct (and indirect) reports to execute on tactical/administrative tasks while he/she works on bigger picture strategy.
…In a perfect world, an organization would simply hire talented, experienced people across the enterprise that are both willing and capable of giving the discretionary effort required to accomplish key goals and objectives… but as we all know we don’t live in a perfect world.
This is where building manager capabilities is key. In most cases your workforce is going to have a wide range of skills and abilities. To this point, I often see early career (high potential) HR people pick up the slack of weaker managers rather than training them up in areas where they’re weak. For example, instead of coaching managers on how to resolve issues with their directs, they become mediators in minor conflicts/disagreements between the parties (that managers should be able to resolve on their own). Or instead of training leaders on how to use internal personnel systems to manage their own direct reports, these young professionals becomes systems administrators and records managers. By not training their managers on how to deal with the smaller issues on their own, they become tactical as opposed to strategic partners. This is not a productive use of their time.
To be a truly effective HR Business Partner one has to get out of the myopia of the day-to-day by training managers on how to handle it. It is in many ways easy to step in and be the hero when crises arise. The work gets done, and managers appreciate the hands-on support. In the long run, however, this approach limits the efficacy of all parties involved and is an inefficient use of human capital.
…I think I have this right, but perhaps not? Let me know in the comments section below.