Every Line Manager is an HR Manager
“Slowly but surely, line managers are taking over the HR front line. Gone are the days when the first port of call for any people management query was the HR department.” – Lucy McGee (Personnel Today)
This is partly because HR as a function has transformed over the past decade. Administration is often outsourced, legislation has become more complex, European Union regulations have to be understood and adhered to, compensation is now many-sided, and selection and development have become more sophisticated. HR is both more specialist and more strategic than ever.
At the same time, the managers' role has evolved as leadership skills have been recognised as being important for a high-performing workforce. 'People management' no longer means filling a form at the yearly appraisal and a few friendly chats in the staff canteen. Spotting talent, motivating, coaching, giving feedback, and developing staff, are all constant, day-to-day activities.
With HR departments focused on the bigger picture issues, and line managers actually managing the line, it's vital these two functions understand each other. Thus the purpose of this paper is to examine the changing role and responsibilities of line manager, as well as possible implications of greater line manager involvement in HRD.
The role of front line managers
Front line managers are managers who are responsible for an employee or work group to a higher level of management. They are normally in the lower layers of the management hierarchy and the employees who report to them do not themselves have any managerial or supervisory responsibility (Hutchinson & Purcell 2003).
The people and performance research carried out by a team at Bath University found that front line managers played a pivotal role in terms of implementing and enacting HR policies and practices. They found that where employees feels positive about their relationship with their front line managers they are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty which are associated with higher levels of performance or discretionary behaviour. Discretionary behaviour is defined as that which goes beyond the requirements of the job to give that extra performance which can boost the bottom line. Line managers also play the strongest part in structuring people’s actual experience of doing a job (Hutchinson & Purcell 2003).
The areas where front line managers make a significant difference to people management practices include:
• performance appraisal
• training, coaching and guidance
• employee engagement (involvement and communication)
• openness – how easy is it for employees to discuss matters with their front line manager • work-life balance
• recognition – the extent to which employees feel their contribution is recognised.
These are all areas where, although the process may be designed by HR, it cannot be delivered by HR. The front line manager role is crucial in a number of respects:
• in enabling the HR policies and practices, or bringing them to life • in acting upon advice or guidance from HR
• in controlling the work flow by directing and guiding the work of others.
However, line managers often have conflicting priorities and role overload. All managers need time to carry out their people management activities.
The Bath research found that front line managers exercise a strong influence over the level of discretion that an individual has over how they do their job. Some managers can permit and encourage people to be responsible for their own jobs whereas others can stifle initiative through controlling or autocratic behaviour.
To encourage the kind of discretionary behaviour from employees associated with higher performance, front line managers need to:
• build a good working relationship with their staff....