Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Managing Up is an Important HR Skill
Think about it. The only way HR can play a strategic partner role in the organization is if HR practitioners learn some effective ways of managing up.
On many occasions, HR practitioners play the gopher role (gopher this, gopher that... get it?) because of several reasons. First I guess is because they don't have the competence to act at a strategic partner level and another is because they don't know how to shift from that order taker role.
I have written about strategic HR management in several posts. Today, I will focus on suggesting ways to help HR build a cooperative and collaborative relationship between them and Top Management.
In typically top-down organizations, there is a tendency for middle managers, HR Managers included, to wait for top management instructions. While nothing is wrong with receiving and aligning HR strategies with top management directions, it is seldom enough to cover all the areas that HR is responsible for. If top management tends to micromanage, it is even more likely that not all of the HR roles will be covered unless HR is able to influence top management to champion some HR initiatives.
How To do it? Let me share my own take on managing up based on my own experience.
Whenever I start work as HR Manager, I normally ask for a month of acclimatizing and understanding the organization's current state. I look closely into the company's strategy, performance strengths, challenges and culture. After that, I craft a comprehensive plan that demonstrates integrated strategies to help the employees contribute more to organizational effectiveness. Whenever I present my HR plans, I make it a point to make clear the role of top management in championing the initiatives and the handover between HR and other line managers. I always get wholesale approval for my plans and it makes my life easier because top management and my counterparts' commitment come with the approval of the plan.
I always make it a point to level expectations with top management. I bat for open communication. I seek clearance to engage management in a discussion of issues whenever warranted. I ask to be allowed to speak freely about what I know, my opinion and feeling about issues. I believe that establishing this kind of communication relationship help improve the quality of decision and paves the way for informed top management decision.
Managing up on a day-to-day basis.
While having a good plan helps, new needs surface everyday that either affect the plan or presents a need to change it. There are also instances when top management make decisions that may have adverse implication on HR matters. HR practitioners should be able to come up to top management, make their proposal or raise their concerns. As long as the roles are clear, norms are in place and communication is respectful, this should not be hard to do. I often say "may I speak" or "may i express my opinion" to seek clearance whenever needed. In a Filipino work culture, I believe this is an invaluable way to show respect and still be able to speak up to top management. I say, "I disagree" whenever I do. At times when I disagree and expressed the implications of top management decision and yet top management decides to go with the decision anyway, I accept the decision and communicate it to others as my own. It is imporant to emphasize at this point that managing up is not about getting what you want but doing what needs to get done. When the communications between top management and middle management flow more freely, this is achieved. If communication is hampered, politics grow and mess things up. Politics don't only slow things down, they hurt relationships as well.
If you see managing up as a challenge, I encourage you to explore this topic further. The web is rich with information on this matter. I suggest that you read up. I also recommend that you explore assertive communication because this is an important skill for managing up.
Here's another post I written in the past that you might find useful:
HR Managers Should Learn How to Sell