In a downturn organisations are faced with the challenge of cutting costs whilst ensuring staff remain productive and motivated. Phil Brown examines the benefits of drawing on the capabilities of your line managers as a means of weathering the economic storm.
The role of line managers has been a hot topic in recent years in HR circles, but the recession is making it even hotter. Under scrutiny is the question of who should take most responsibility for people management in an organisation – HR or line managers? As the recession bites, and businesses are forced to work more efficiently and reduce their overheads, this question is becoming more important. Good people management has a proven direct effect on a company's bottom line – and in some cases it can make the difference between a business surviving or failing in tough times. When organisations are making cuts, they need to ensure that employees remain motivated, engaged and focused on clear business objectives to drive productivity and profitability forwards. So who will be driving this? Step forward the line managers. In tough times the line manager plays a critical role in motivating employees and many organisations are now recognising that if they are to weather the economic storm and come out of it well-placed to make the most of the recovery, they need to fully empower their line managers to take accountability for people management. This drive was evident even before the recession. A 2007 survey of UK HR directors revealed that while responsibility for people management was split 50:50 between line managers and HR, most thought the ideal split was 80:20. And a 2008 survey by the Employment Review found that two-thirds of organisations were expecting line managers to take more accountability for people management in the immediate future. Organisational performance The power of good line management was revealed in what is probably the biggest ever research exercise into factors which influence organisational performance. Gallup’s 30-year-long study spanned 114 countries and included 10 million interviews with employees and managers in 41 languages. From these, Gallup identified 12 key factors influencing employee performance – and many relate to the activities of front-line managers – such as giving employees clear targets, regular recognition and praise, frequent updates about their performance and encouraging their personal development. The evidence shows that good people management can increase profits – one study showed that achieving a 10% improvement against 12 key management practices led to an increase in profit of £1,200 per employee – but there is another solid reason for empowering frontline managers: risk. Any business process is only as strong as its weakest link and unfortunately in many situations frontline managers, through no fault of their own, are that weakest link. The role demands a daunting array of skills and not every line manager has them all. If managers are not doing the right thing – from asking the right questions at interviews to carrying out checks on a new starter – then organisations are exposed to risk. So how do you empower your frontline managers to be successful at the same time as protecting your business? Based on our experiences working with clients, we have found 10 golden rules for making the most of your vital assets, the frontline manager:
- Get senior managers on board. Significant change is impossible without their support. Senior managers need both to act as role models and to allow line managers the time to devote to people management.
- Set clear, readable frameworks to support managers. Dump the 20-page, jargon-heavy documents. Present clear, action-oriented guidelines.
- Educate line managers about the impact of their behaviours. Don’t assume they will all instinctively understand what constitutes good management. This is where senior HR managers can help, by raising awareness among line managers.
- Relate good practices to business outcomes. Motivate line managers by showing how good practice will help them achieve personal and team targets. Avoid resorting to ‘because that’s what the policy says’
- Provide coaching and mentoring programmes. Individual managers need to know it is OK for them to admit they don’t know how to handle every situation. Coaching and mentoring allows them to ask for help in a non-threatening, low-risk way.
- Use technology-based tools to help guide managers through processes. This allows them to be more self-sufficient and reduces the administrative burden on the HR team. Typically, managers can deal with 70 to 80% of the issues they face if they just have better access to information, documentation and relevant guidance. Giving them this frees up valuable HR time for the occasions when managers truly require their expertise.
- Be prepared to let go. Accept some mistakes will be made, and do not have HR step in every time there is a problem. In the long term it is far better to coach line managers on how to handle issues themselves.
- Use training to improve skills and raise awareness – but don’t expect it to solve everything. While training is great for skills development, it is not so good for imparting knowledge. People tend to forget facts, figures and policies over time if they are not used regularly. Back up classroom training with on-the-job support tools.
- Use rewards and performance management to encourage good practice. If a manager is only judged on operational targets, that is what they will focus on, so set objectives for managing and developing staff.
- Shout about the successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Line managers will be inspired to adopt desired behaviours if they see other managers achieving successful results. Find positive examples in your organisation and publicise them widely.
Phil Brown is managing director of Youmanage Ltd, providers of a unique online HR toolkit for managers.