Unfortunately, there is no simple overnight solution to this, as it's not just a case of sending managers on a 3-day training course or setting up an intranet site and assuming that this will suffice.
Genuinely empowering managers to take greater accountability for their people requires a broad-ranging approach which addresses the organisational culture as well as the skills and tools being made available to individual managers.
1. Get senior management buy-in – This is vital. As with any other type of significant business change, it will be impossible to get managers to take full accountability for people management, unless senior managers are committed to it.
Senior managers need to act as role models for the desired behaviours and they also need to create and provide the headroom that allows managers to devote an appropriate proportion of their time to people management.
2. Give managers clear, easily understandable frameworks for action and decision-making. Information needs to be presented in a practical, action-oriented way.
Expecting a manager to wade through a jargon-heavy 20 page policy document to work out what action they should be taking is neither practical nor effective.
3. Educate managers about the impact of good and bad management practices – don’t assume that all managers will instinctively ‘get it’.
There is sometimes a communication gap between HR and the line, because HR assume a level of understanding that doesn’t always exist, particularly with managers who have a strong technical/operational focus.
Part of HR/senior management’s role needs to be to raise awareness among line managers of the impact of their actions.
4. When communicating with managers always relate the desired practices to the business outcomes that will be most important to them.
Telling a hard-pressed manager that they need to do something ‘because that’s what the policy says’ is no way to gain their commitment. Showing them how good management practices will help them achieve their own personal and team goals, both short and long-term, is far more likely to gain buy-in.
5. Provide coaching and mentoring programmes to enable managers to ask for help in a non-threatening, low-risk way.
It needs to be OK for individual managers to admit that they don’t know how to handle a particular situation and sometimes formal, competitive, management structures don’t encourage this.
Coaching and mentoring could come from peers, senior managers or HR.
6. Use technology-based tools to improve access to useful information and guide managers through people management processes.
Automated support solutions enable managers to be more self-sufficient and reduce the admin and support burden on the HR team.
They also have the advantage of providing better central visibility of what actions line managers are taking.
Typically 70 - 80% of managers’ support requirements are relatively standard and can be addressed through giving them better access to information, documentation and relevant guidance, leaving HR to focus on the minority of situations that actually require their expertise.
7. Be prepared to let go and accept that mistakes are part of the learning process.
If every time there is a problem, HR step in and take over from the manager, the message this sends is that the manager is not really accountable or trusted.
In the long-run it is far better to coach them to handle the issue themselves, rather than do the job for them.
8. Use training to improve skills and raise awareness and to give managers the confidence that they can handle the variety of situations they will encounter.
However, do not expect that sending managers on a training course will fix all problems.
Training is great for skills development but not so effective for imparting knowledge on processes and policies, which tends to degrade very quickly.
Classroom-based training needs to be complemented by on-the-job support tools.
9. Use reward and performance management processes to drive the desired management behaviours. If a manager only has operational objectives then of course that’s where they will focus their energies.
Managing and developing staff needs to be a core part of the line manager’s role, not a nice-to-have that is fitted in after the important stuff has been done.
10. Shout about the successes – nothing will encourage managers to adopt the desired behaviours more than seeing other managers achieve successful results.
Find positive examples within your organisation of how great results are being achieved as a result of effective people management and publicise them widely.
In recent years the empowerment and accountability of line managers is a subject that has been much discussed, however it is questionable as to how much action has been taken towards the goals that are widely agreed as being desirable.
This isn't just a nice-to-have for businesses, but an imperative. For some it may make the difference between survival and failure.
Building an environment where managers are truly empowered and truly accountable for their teams is not straightforward and not quick.
However it is possible, as successful companies have proven and continue to demonstrate. And when it is achieved it can have a real and long-lasting impact on the performance of an organisation – improving productivity, raising customer satisfaction levels and increasing profitability.