I’m pleased to introduce this second guest post by Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a registered occupational psychologist focused on workplace well-being, employee engagement, leadership and management. In today’s post Emma shares the importance of leadership to people management success.
Good leadership and management are not only vital for organizational success, they are also essential for the success of HR within the organization. In our review of leadership and its implications for HR for the CIPD, my colleague Rachel Lewis and I contended that HR professionals need not only to establish the systems and processes for people management activities, but also to show leadership themselves and develop the leadership skills of those in people management positions across the organization.
Local implementation of HR practices
Over recent years, or even decades, there has been an increasing recognition of line managers’ responsibility for a wide range of people management activities: employee engagement, performance management, learning and talent management, absence management… the list goes on. While HR professionals may set the policies and procedures for these people management activities, they cannot be on the ground delivering every individual appraisal and return to work interview or undertaking the day-to-day engagement of individual employees.
CIPD research has shown that line managers play a vital role in implementing HR policies such as appraisals and team briefings. Without good line managers, there is a risk that these kinds of policies are just aspirations in an employee handbook, but are not fully implemented – or are implemented in a way that becomes either ‘tick-box’ or inappropriate. The result is then that HR practices seem unsuccessful and employees experience a ‘rhetoric-reality gap’: the organization and its HR department espouse good intentions and best practice, but these are not matched by what individuals experience at the local level.
Developing the organization and its people
At a time when the imperative for organizational development (OD) and change is ever stronger, leadership skills and local-level people management become essential. If organizations are genuinely to change, the way they are led and managed must also change. Organizational change is about people, so OD programs that focus purely on the systems and structures are unlikely to succeed. For organizations to build a high-performance culture, line managers need to be the real agents of change at the local level, working actively with their employees to achieve successful and sustainable OD. Research suggests that the sanction, support and involvement of managers are vital to the success of change initiatives.
In the learning and development arena too, the role of line managers is central. With the shift from training to learning, it becomes important to create learning cultures in the workplace . This requires local level leadership to set the tone for this culture and enable individuals to engage in learning as part of their work roles.
With the drive towards HR becoming a strategic, ‘insight driven’ function, the need to ensure that line managers are taking on people management activities becomes particularly significant. HR business partners and those in central HR teams need to spend as little time as possible ‘hand-holding’ managers, managing conflict and absence and providing a shield for poor management. They need to get to the point where managers are doing all the people management roles themselves – engaging people, supporting wellbeing and getting the most out of their employees – so that HR professionals have the capacity to focus on the broader issues, take a step back from day-to-day management and steer overall people strategy.
If the vision set out here is to be achieved, HR professionals will need to show leadership themselves: they need to seize the leadership agenda, show its relevance and importance and support its development. The HR function needs to be led and developed so that it can take the lead within the organization on people management issues. It also needs to lead the way in developing leadership and management skills throughout the organization.
Emma is a Registered Occupational Psychologist who specializes in working with organizations to achieve sustainable business performance through employee health, wellbeing and engagement. She is Director and Co-Founder of Affinity Health at Work and Director and Founder of Affinity Coaching and Supervision.
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