Secrets From an HR Manager

teddybearangelWouldn’t it be nice if you had a little Human Resources “angel” sitting on your shoulder to whisper advice and recommendations as you went about your daily work? It sure would keep us out of trouble sometimes and perhaps help us make wiser decisions to reduce the challenges that often come when supervising others. Unfortunately, that angel doesn’t exist, but here’s the next best thing.

I interviewed an HR Manager with responsibility for 550 employees and asked her this question: “What are the top secrets every manager should know to improve leadership skills, team effectiveness, prevent litigation and enhance engagement?”

Here are her answers – uncut, unedited and in no particular order, along with my two cents!

(HR Angel) Learn how to handle authority. One of the biggest challenges I see for new managers is their ability to transition from being one of the gang to someone who now leads the gang. Find a style that works for you and the people you manage.

(Laura) You may want to have a frank conversation with your peers and friends before you move into that role to explain how you will approach your new responsibilities. It will not only take the pressure off you, but show them how conscientious and committed you are to supporting them in an appropriate manner.

(HR Angel) Be consistent and fair. Don’t try to be equal! Everyone needs something a little different. The cactus would die from too much water and the lily would wither from the heat. You can’t possibly be equal all the time, but you can be fair. The number one reason why employees end up in my office is they believe their manager treated them unfairly.

(Laura) You’d drive yourself crazy if you tried to treat everyone equally. The doctor doesn’t give the same medicine to everyone who walks in their office, so why should you, as a manager, try to do so? Work to strike a reasonable balance between serving the best interests of the employee with the business needs. Also, remember your policies and procedures guide is there for a good reason.

(HR Angel) Get to know employment laws. You should be able to see the “red flag” when it comes up and take appropriate action. This especially applies to the Family Medical Leave Act and Americans With Disabilities Act. Supervisors are now being sued just as successfully as Human Resources managers and company owners for not handling these issues well.

(Laura) While you don’t have to be an expert in these areas, you should be familiar enough with the overall philosophy of each piece of legislation to know when to give HR a call. You will most likely be the first point of contact for the employee who qualifies under these Acts.

(HR Angel) The way you deliver the message is just as important as the message itself. A number of years ago, I saw a manager deliver a written warning on sexual harassment by throwing the paper across the table saying, “Here, read this. If you have any questions, we can talk about it.” Often, it’s the way you handle the situation that determines whether or not you end up in court.

(Laura) It’s harder to back down after you’ve escalated a situation through your words or demeanor. Keep your language objective, your facial expressions in neutral (keep your eyebrows and your tongue relaxed – it works!) and your tone of voice moderate.

(HR Angel) Set appropriate, realistic expectations. Communicate in a way that everyone understands. Don’t think just because you put it in writing and post it on the intranet that everyone “gets” it. Set performance goals early on and revisit them more than once a year.

(Laura) It’s amazing how easy it is to create an expectation without fully knowing all the requirements or ramifications. Encourage your employees to play “devil’s advocate” with you (a great team meeting activity too). Lay the project, plan or objectives out before them and then stand back and give them permission to poke holes in it.

(HR Angel) Don’t be afraid to ask! So many times I’ve asked a manager, “What did she say when you asked her about XYZ?” The manager usually responds, “I didn’t know I could ask that!” Don’t be afraid to get issues out in the open when it has a direct bearing on job performance. Ask for HR guidance in advance if you’re uncertain of how the discussion should go.

(Laura) I believe we often hesitate to ask the questions because we’re afraid we’ll open a “Pandora’s Box” and not know how to deal with the results. But it’s much easier in the long run to know what we’re dealing with and gather all the information at our disposal to make a sound decision. We will also communicate to the employee that we care enough to ask the tough questions.

(HR Angel) Use common sense and good judgment! Sometimes we lost more by trying to stay within the policy than risk bending the rules. Does the policy still apply to this situation? Which will end up costing the employee and the company more in the long run?

(Laura) Horrors! How dare we bend the rules! Let’s be real. Our environment is changing rapidly around us. We aren’t playing by the same set of rules as in years past. Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

(HR Angel) Understand compensation philosophies. Learn all about merit increases, salary ranges, promotional policies so you can make sound decisions and provide a fair and consistent environment.

(Laura) I know this was a confusing area for me when I was a new supervisor. Not knowing the big picture made if difficult to administer performance reviews and answer employee questions. If we take the time up front to understand these policies, we won’t drive our Compensation HR folks quite so crazy quite so often!

(HR Angel) Consult HR if anyone makes a comment (joking or not) about workplace violence, discrimination or harassment. Consult prior to administering a written warning for advice on how, when and what to document.

(Laura) You’re really going to want their guidance before things get messy. The broader perspective they offer from dealing with these issues across the organization may keep you from under or over-reacting. Remember, we are heavily influenced by our individual perspective or “lens” of the world. Too often we’re so close to the circumstances that it’s difficult to be objective.

(HR Angel) Notify HR if you change operations or functions that may impact employee morale or organizational culture. Avoid employee “fallout” and involve HR early in the planning process.

(Laura) It’s amazing how often we can avoid problems or disgruntled employees just by having another set of professional eyes look at a plan before implementation. After all, that’s what these folks have been trained for. Don’t second guess a situation and don’t be afraid they’ll throw cold water on your efforts. Let them guide you to insure the job gets done right!