Manager straight talk: A Vision of effective corporate HR

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a strategy to win a war is to break the enemies supply line. What does it say about the corporate philosophy when you haven’t even established a line?

Who does HR serve? One prone to stereotypes may believe HR is a necessary evil because they do not produce a product and therefore a self-serving group that seeks to secure budget for themselves, much as a federal bureaucracy might.

British Naval History Museum- Portsmouth, England (19889):Photo by Challen Yee

British Naval History Museum- Portsmouth, England (1989):Photo by Challen Yee

Cycle after cycle of company “force reductions” and “downsizings” HR develops a reputation of being the strong arm of the executive directors of the company.

To be very fair, I’ve known some excellent people who have held HR positions and to do them justice, my attitudes about leadership in engineering apply just as harshly to leadership in HR.

Just curious.
Do you know who your HR representative is?
Does your HR representative know anything personal about you?
Has your HR representative ever said “Hello” to you?
Are companies relying too much on cyberspace connections to assess their employees?

Is it enough that an HR department be responsible to administer benefit plans, follow government regulations and interface with incoming and outgoing employees?

HR involvement at another level

A growing company, or any company has issues with managers who focus on the technical aspects of their job but cannot fathom the value of the “human resource” aspects of their jobs as managers.

As one prominent engineering manager explained to me, “This company wants their managers to be good at technical skills.” The unsaid assumption is that there is no significant incentive for manager to develop better group dynamics.
I thought to myself, of course, if there is no significant aptitude for the development of people skills at the top, then how can you pass on what you do not know?

Another ongoing pressure on management is the need to jump through hoops every time there is a deadline. It becomes common place that an engineering manager will continue to ride the viscous cycle of aggressive deadlines, without any significant margin to invest “hours of time” to play touchy-feely with their people.

Having been involved with high pressure engineering cycles, I can at least sympathize with the engineering manager who has good technical skills and a low aptitude and burned out attitude towards team strengthening. Reliance on individual team member’s ability to be self-motivated goes on without much question.

As a result, you end up with the attitude of “That’s the way we’ve always done it so why change?”

HR-E  comes into the picture

If a company wants to reinvigorate their burnt out management system with its burnt out and narrow visioned managers, no matter how well they have seemed to be executing in the past,
this is where strong HR-E (HR-Engineering) intervention is needed.
Forget this flimsy concept that HR is an accessory department meant to fill in holes on an organizational chart. That’s an unnecessary restriction of company intelligence and resources.

If you want to win a war, your logistical supply line cannot be robust without a direct connection to the combatant in the front line. In other words, if your influence as an HR department is not reaching out to at least the managers who are fighting the battle and creating the products that are bringing in the revenue which is sustaining the company, then what the heck are you doing? Does your department exist to serve any higher purpose?


The Secret is understanding what the fighters’ needs are

Before you as an HR-E manager think that you can just go in and start being a minor dictator, going in and turning over an established department culture, better stop and think.
A good sales-marketer, for example, isn’t going to go into a customer site and propose a solution without determining the needs of the customer.

Don’t rely only on surveys. Who you need are people to interact with the managers (if not all personnel), people who can communicate at the engineering level, an garner mutual respect from the front line fighter and also understands the tools in the HR logistical arsenal, such as personal development techniques and leadership in management training.
Moreover, this HR-E intermediary force can provide excellent information, collecting lessons learned, and to gain insight on implementing company wide standardization.

As an HR-E person, going into the front line, you have to see for yourself and hear for yourself what is going on, ascertain the needs of the engineers and managers before presenting a solution to their needs.

Dollars spent on the latest high tech training courses from the best educational institutions in the world are an absolute complete waste of time and money unless you have compliance from the people who need it.

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I’ll see you… on the next page

Note: I was so tempted to sing O Little Town of Bethlehem instead of writing about HR as Christmas winds down and the kids are going to sleep.

It’s little weird writing about another manager-straight-talk late on Christmas day, but the fact is, for those who are feeling trapped in a dead end career, listing away in a cubicle, you should at least understand the various forces that contribute to your circumstances. Have a great weekend.

Challen Yee

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