Changing mindsets | HR needs the line manager

Changing mindsets | HR needs the line manager
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First Published: Mon, Jul 20 2009. 10 21 PM IST

Deepak Malkani (left) and Anant Bijoy Bhagwati
Deepak Malkani (left) and Anant Bijoy Bhagwati
Updated: Mon, Jul 20 2009. 10 21 PM IST
Research indicates that an involved employee can be up to 20% more productive than a disengaged one. Most employees are highly motivated when their organizations give them an opportunity to express, raise and resolve their concerns and challenges, invest in developing their capabilities and provide clear growth opportunities for them.
Deepak Malkani (left) and Anant Bijoy Bhagwati
Traditionally, the human resource (HR) function has been viewed as the generator of employee engagement and retention initiatives, and many organizations have invested in enhancing their HR technologies, practices and processes. Some have been successful, but many have failed to achieve the desired improvements. The reason for their failure is surprisingly simple—engaging, developing and retaining employees cannot be the sole responsibility of the HR function. For an organization to build an engaged, productive and efficient workforce, line managers must shoulder responsibility too.
Many organizations often overlook the critical factor that enhances employee engagement: how well HR policies and programmes are implemented by line managers and whether those managers invest in employee motivation and development. Any HR process will fail to see the envisioned success if the line managers fail to support them. For example, performance management and succession planning are two processes that require strong and substantial line management support to implement effectively.
For line managers to foster productivity and develop future leaders, they must inculcate a “people-developer mindset” in their day-to-day interactions with colleagues. This is easier said than done, and often involves a significant cultural shift. The challenge is further compounded by significant differences in what motivates different generations in the workforce—typical organizations have Generation X line managers at middle to senior levels, and the younger Net generation at entry level. A starting point to trigger the cultural shift is to reflect on the following questions.
When was the last time you had a non-work related discussion with your direct reports? While most line managers would believe they have had such interactions with their reports, these interactions are seldom structured or action-oriented. Knowing and understanding your colleagues as individuals and not employees embeds greater trust and openness in working relationships.
Does your relationship with your colleagues create energy or sap it? To be successful, it is vital that communication barriers are knocked down for a good relationship between a line manager and his/her colleagues. A two-way dialogue enables a line manager to understand the underlying issues that demotivate his or her reports and create an environment that nurtures respect and transparency.
When was the last time you had a dialogue with your colleague in which you shared development feedback? It is essential for employees to hone their functional skills to perform their roles effectively. A rigorous performance feedback discussion using a detailed skills dictionary helps both manager and employee identify development areas for improving functional skills.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The HR function clearly has a key role to play in enabling and sustaining the cultural transformation of an organization that leads to these types of behaviour.
However, our research across multiple organizations shows that as much as 75% of a typical HR function’s time is consumed by transactional activities, and a mere 25% is spent on more value-adding and strategic activities such as nurturing a people-developer mindset.
One of India’s largest building material manufacturers has undertaken this journey to transform its HR function and boost performance. The journey involved three interdependent components:
Creating a shared services centre and standardized processes:
This organization created more time for HR staff to focus on strategic activities by moving transactional activities such as payroll, benefits administration, grievance handling, recruitment logistics and training administration to a shared service centre where they could be processed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. Standardized processes and technology provide high-quality, uninterrupted HR service to the entire organization.
Building skills within HR to coach line managers:
Similar to many of its manufacturing industry peers, this building-material organization needed a substantial boost to its functional HR capabilities. It set up an HR academy with training modules that enabled HR professionals to coach line managers in building a people mindset. This was not an easy task, as one of the first things to be done was to build empathy among HR personnel towards business issues. This was done via modules designed to help HR personnel understand key business imperatives and identify opportunity areas for HR to provide better support to line managers. However, this helped break the ice and get HR the much needed respect from line—a prerequisite for it to coach line managers.
Embarking on an organization-wide people-developer revolution:
The building material manufacturer used the additional HR capacity and capability it created to coach line managers on how to lead, develop and respect their colleagues, and improve their “people sensitivity”. A set of actions—ranging from moving transactional tasks to a central processing unit to using IT more effectively—freed up a lot of HR time and allowed it to focus on the people-developer revolution. Locations where manager- supervisor relationships and engagement levels were poor were selected to pilot the new approach. Small groups of line managers and their staff were assigned concrete people developer and productivity enhancement targets. They were taken through a step- wise relationship building programme, starting with knowing your colleagues, moving on to developing their skills and helping plan their careers. These groups showed considerable improvement and their internal performance ratings moved up significantly within a short period.
In summary, we have seen many organizations chase the holy grail of productivity improvements. They are spending a great deal of time and money commissioning tonnes of analysis on time-motion and benchmarking, with varying results. However, it is critical to recognize the fact that an engaged employee is surely a more productive one. The keys to his engagement and motivation lie in the hands of his line manager. The day HR takes on the mantle of coaching the line manager in energizing his relationship with his reportee, organizations can unlock the true potential of organizational talent—for in this relationship lies the key to enhancing workforce productivity beyond one’s wildest imagination.
This is the fourth in a five-part series on innovative talent management.
The series looks at various facets in the human performance process that need to be worked upon by companies to turn the economic crisis into an opportunity.
Deepak Malkani (left) is a partner with Accenture India and leads the talent and organization performance practice. Anant Bijoy Bhagwati heads the human resource transformation offering group in the talent and organization performance practice in Accenture India. Both are based in the firm’s Mumbai office.
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First Published: Mon, Jul 20 2009. 10 21 PM IST