Your Career Q&A: HR and Reluctant Managers

By Martin Yate Jul 5, 2016
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Having problems getting your company’s managers to follow your HR requirements? Time to make some strategic alliances—in your workforce and among your HR peers. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I currently work as an HR coordinator (and HR department of one) for a small construction company. I’m responsible for benefits, employee relations, compliance, payroll, training and development, job descriptions, employee files, recruiting, engagement, and travel arrangements, among many other tasks here and there. 

 I’ve only had a few months of recruiting experience, and I’m two classes shy of earning my bachelor’s degree in HR management. I go to school online so that I can work full time, which the company knew when hiring me. I’ve now been here eight months, and I’m frustrated. I’ve received no training, so on my own I’ve taken some seminars, and I refer to my school’s online resources as needed. I’ve also joined SHRM, but I’d appreciate any advice on finding additional resources.   

Right now I’m working on training and development and building a development program for each position. I’ve sent a questionnaire to all employees asking about their job, what they like, what they see themselves doing in five years, and challenges they currently have or would like to have. No one took the questionnaire seriously, and half of the staff didn’t even complete it. When we onboard a new employee, I ask for a training schedule from the supervisor and get an answer like “I’ll figure it out” or “He will get with one of the guys.” When I follow up, I only hear “He’s doing fine” or something vague like that. Please help!

Tara
Brunswick, Ohio

 Having lived through a similar experience myself, my heart goes out to you, but the 20/20 hindsight coming from that experience might be more helpful than the sympathy.

You are on payroll, so obviously one or more pretty influential people see the need for the skills you possess. But let’s face the facts: An HR department of one in a company unused to the HR function is a tough journey to navigate. Many of those old-line managers may not understand the value your role can bring to their work.  

As with most of the issues we address in this column, there is no simple answer, but rather a number of concurrent actions you need to take. 

First of all, you might give yourself a crash course in the construction industry, how it functions and makes money, and the challenges it faces. Use allies and even perceived enemies and pepper them with questions about everything related to the business being successful and the problems that get in the way of success. Showing a real interest and regard for the challenges of their world will win you respect and probably some new insights on how to bring about change.  

You will never succeed in jamming new rules and regulations down the throats of experienced construction managers. But if you can adapt and deliver HR requirements as intelligent solutions to the problems they experience, then attitudes can change: You become a problem-solver and not a walking pestilence. 

Do cut back on general questionnaires that may make people think their jobs are in jeopardy; there are bigger problems to understand and solve before worrying about quality of work/life issues.  

Simultaneously, use the mentors at your local SHRM meetings to help you capture how the HR function impacts the bottom line—all the ways HR helps make money, save money or increase productivity for the company. Let them help you capture the value your function can bring to the company in easy-to-understand language. 

With your new understanding of the challenges facing companies in the construction industry, and some idea of the ways HR can help with these issues, you might then consider meeting with the most senior and powerful of your allies—maybe the person who hired you? Ask for a prioritization of the issues you should be focusing on, and be prepared to present your action items, too. Discuss, reprioritize your lists and agree to come back with a plan of attack to accomplish these priorities. 

Ask for advice about how to deal with the line managers who are not taking the need for these changes seriously (without naming names, of course) and thereby impeding their implementation. 

Meanwhile, whenever you find a supporter in line management, go out of your way to help them in any way you can. When that manager’s peers see how you can deliver value, you will win them over, one by one. I would pursue this approach for nine months with complete commitment. If after that time you have been unable to make any headway, it might be time to consider a move–while maintaining every appearance of continued commitment. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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