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Dean Hunter

Hunter Adams

Managing Director

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Talking Point: Why HR directors should manage, not mother


When it comes to evaluating staff behaviour and performance, what kind of manager are you?

And more to the point, is your managerial style – and that of your colleagues – damaging the business?
Some employers apply strict policies to keep employees on a tight rein. Others take a more laid-back approach, letting conduct slide and demonstrating a reluctance to confront disciplinary issues.
It is this ‘touchy-feely’ style of management, driven by emotion rather than business fairness that I advise against.
Work culture is increasingly based around inclusiveness. But political correctness, while it is important and must be applied, is not an excuse for postponing decision-making. Straightforward decisions sometimes take three to four months to make as HR directors and line managers waste valuable business time nurturing their teams instead of managing them.
It is also a matter of culture. In the private sector, these issues tend to be dealt with more efficiently and effectively. In the public and third sectors, however, workplace culture is driven by inclusiveness, sometimes leading to a more paternalistic way of managing workers and more of a reluctance to take difficult decisions.
But there is a big difference between listening to someone’s problems and delaying important business verdicts. Getting on with people as an HR director or manager is certainly not the same as being everyone’s best friend. 
Don’t prevaricate
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care for staff. Empathy is important. But I am becoming increasingly frustrated by people who delay business decisions while pandering to employees’ personal needs. In my view, employment should be based on performance. Other factors can certainly be taken into account, but they should not dominate.
So why are so many organisations managing their businesses in this way? It is because the ‘fear factor’ is paramount. Confusion about UK employment law often leads people to believe that if they say no to workers, they will find themselves at a tribunal.  
In reality, such a scenario is extremely rare. I have worked in HR for 15 years and I have never been involved in a tribunal. Employers do need to follow the law, but they also have to make necessary decisions and stick to them.
Another problem is that both HR and line managers can find staff discipline too complicated to tackle. The myth that discipline is a difficult process is often used as an excuse by people who are trying to delay or avoid it, revealing an unwillingness to take tough decisions.  
But time wasted in prolonging the inevitable firing of an underperforming individual can be damaging for business efficiency and, eventually, profitability.
Taking too long over making tough decisions also generates the risk that you lose the respect of your team. While staff members want to see their bosses display compassion, they will not be impressed by failure to take decisive action against underperformers, for example.  
In fact, quite the opposite. An individual who is not pulling their weight is likely to be adding to the work load of colleagues around them, potentially increasing their stress levels and working hours.
Suitable power balance
Personnel trying to fill these gaps will be relieved to see fair, decisive and prompt action. Failure to take such action, however, will lead to a lack of respect, which is an unenviable position for any manager to be in. 
Ideally there should be a balance between caring about employees and running the business. There should also be a suitable balance of power between employees and management.  
Give staff too much power and they can become unruly, treating the workplace as a playground or domestic environment and, therefore, being disruptive to the business. If managers are too tough, however, they risk alienating workers.  
This means that it is important to put business rather than employees’ interests first, which is actually in their interest. But it means that workers need to toughen up too, especially during a recession.
Nonetheless, it is also important to remember that employees, HR professionals and line managers all work for the same company and are all part of the same team. It is far too easy to perpetuate a ‘them and us’ attitude and reinforce a siege mentality.
But, like a see saw, if one side dominates, the other will be left high and dry. And people vote with their feet. But a healthy balance of power is perfectly possible.
Ultimately, however, being a successful HR director – or line manager – is not about mothering, it’s about managing – and understanding that fact will help to preserve business fairness, profitability and sustainability for the benefit of all.
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Dean Hunter

Managing Director

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