Expert Q & A with Dr. Alice Waagen: Unique HR / Management Challenges
By Mary White
Daily HR Solution: What are some of the unique challenges HR practitioners face when it comes to working with managerial level employees?
Dr. Waagen: Since the human resource manager’s main job is to keep the company safe from a liability lawsuit, we become de facto managers when the managers don’t manage well. And it happens all the time.
In fact, in an interview with Inc. magazine in August, I told reporter Darren Dahl that for managers to succeed, the most important part of their job is to be accountable for results.
For example, a good manager creates short- and long-term goals for all staff, and then sets realistic standards and targets to measure progress to plan. And, he or she needs to provide specific and objective feedback on an ongoing basis, which informs, enlightens and helps staff members improve their performance.
Remember, it’s the job of all senior staff members to monitor the rest of the team for compliance issues. When they fail to do this, lawsuits can occur — and that’s when HR must step in to minimize corporate exposure and liability. But the first line of defense is the management team, and they need to be pros.
DHRS: What are some of the most common miscommunications that occur between HR practitioners and management level employees?
Dr. Waagen: HR practitioners sometimes fail to communicate the fact that they will champion the rights of employees. The reality is that we are in place to protect the assets of the organization. Ideally, the goals and desires of employees align with the goals of the organization — but every so often these two objectives do not align.
I see this most frequently when it comes to issues of compensation and promotion. Managers sometimes take on the role of being the champions for the employees on their staffs, and sometimes they want to give them a raise beyond budgeted funds and the going market rate. However, in today’s economic climate, even the most generous of businesses cannot afford to over-pay staff or they risk being viable business enterprises.
When managers see their role as promoting employee interests over that of the company, this is another moment when the HR executive needs to step in. It is their job to clearly communicate the reasons for a business decision, such as a capped salary or a promotion that can’t be given. Granted, it’s no fun to be at cross-purposes with individual needs and desires, but that’s their job.
DHRS: What steps can HR practitioners take to develop positive relationships with management team members?
Dr. Waagen: HR practitioners need to position themselves as trusted partners and supportive coaches who are valuable allies to the manager — not as the “corporate cops.”
In my experience, the four characteristics of a top-notch HR practitioner includes:
1. Understanding the business and the issues and concerns of the managers.
2. Serving as a source of advice and counsel for managers.
3. Keeping managers up to date on changes to policy or regulations that can affect their staff.
4. Building trust through honest and open communication.
About Dr. Alice Waagen
Alice Waagen, PhD is president and founder of WORKFORCE LEARNING LLC, a leadership development company that since 1997 has provided managers and C-level executives with the skills and knowledge they need to build a more productive work environment.
Prior to founding Workforce Learning, Alice served as Senior Director of Corporate Training for Amtrak in Washington DC and Director Education, Training & Development for Freddie Mac in McLean VA. In both of those positions, Alice created and implemented workplace development programs that served her internal clients from the shop floor to the executive suite.
She has a passion for working with organization leaders to identify their successful HR programs and practices as well as to develop new programs that increase leader effectiveness. In the past three years, more than 125 leaders from 24 different organizations have graduated from Alice’s unique leadership development workshop series.
Alice is frequently called on to present on topics of organizational learning best practices. She has spoken at the International Personnel Management Association (IPMA) annual conference, numerous chapter meeting of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), American Association for Training & Development (ASTD), the Association of Fundraising Professional (AFFP) and the American Legal Association (ALA). She has facilitated strategic leadership off sites for a number of Metro DC organizations including the Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF), Haynes Boone Inc., McNeil Technology, Horizon Corporation, and US AID.
Alice earned a BS in Education from the New York State College at Buffalo, and MS and PhD degrees in Education from the Pennsylvania State University. Giving back to the community is also important to Alice. She currently serves on The Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity, Northern VA as well as on the Advisory Board for Marymount University Reston Campus Graduate and Adult Education Programs.
For more information, contact Alice: