It always amazes me when executives mistake organizational hierarchy for expertise. If you manage a specific functional area or department, then be sure that decisions which touch upon other areas are made with consultation and advice from someone who knows more about it than you. Be prepared to get advice from someone who is out of your area and who may be lower in the organizational hierarchy than you are.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more vivid than in staffing issues. Just because you are a VP of Finance with 10 years experience managing your staff, doesn’t mean that you are qualified or capable of making strategic Human Resource decisions. Because our ability to manage people is seen as a reflection of our overall social skills, most are reluctant to seek help. Most people see themselves as having mastered the social skills required
to manage themselves and others, but the truth is that many struggle and many make bad staffing decisions. Just like in marketing, finance and administration, there are experts in human resource management and you may not be one of them.
In one situation I recently encountered a CFO decided that there should be an executive assistant in charge of all the executive assistants. Although there was no clear evidence that they needed a boss outside of the executive they work for, he decided he would promote one to manager. And his assistant was nearby, he liked her, she was competent in her role so he promoted her. New title, salary increase and a mandate to “lead” the group of EA’s. This decision was made without consultation with the HR area.
Within a week, the other EA’s were in an uproar. She was bossing them around, micromanaging them and calling what they saw as useless meetings. Soon the executives were inundated with complaints, taking up way too much time, annoying everyone and turning a self-managed team to mush. The CFO had created a monster!
One of the executives who caught wind of the problem was the HR VP. She approached the CFO to offer help and ended up getting some coaching for the new EA manager. But given their previous interactions with her, her efforts to fix the problem looked to the others like more of the same. She just did not have the skills to manage others – her low self-esteem and need to be in charge was the only agenda she was capable of pursuing.
She should never have been promoted to this position. HR’s real challenge was to tell the CFO just that. Further, she told him that it is difficult for her to have an impact if she is not consulted prior to making such an important decision. Now they are left with a crucial group being disgruntled, the CFO losing his mind over how annoying his assistant has become, a situation where they may loose high performing EA’s and the possibility that they may have to lay off the EA manager, which will cost money.
In another case, an HR department in a large organization wanted to be sure that senior management knows more about what they offer, what value they provide and to communicate some things they are doing to enhance organizational life. Certainly not a bad idea…on paper at least.
They proceeded to put together an internal electronic newsletter which would communicate the HR happenings to managers and executives. After the second edition of the newsletter went out they began getting feedback and complaints. It seemed that many saw the content as patronizing and insulting. They wrote about shortcomings of specific management practices they had heard about within the organization. The newsletter also came across as preaching, using cheesy motivational phrases which seemed to be more appropriate for children.
In essence, they missed the basic rule of marketing – know your audience. This could have been easily avoided by partnering with the numerous marketing professionals they have on staff, rather than thinking they can do it themselves. Now, they are left with the opposite kind of attention they wanted and have to find a way to fix it. Just because the marketing department deals with marketing externally, does not mean that they cannot help with marketing internally, an important goal for this department. This just never crossed their mind.
Organizations cannot be strategic without actually using the expertise and experience they have to get to where they want to go. Further, strategy as it pertains to human resources, marketing, finance or any area cannot happen if their only role is to fix problems after the fact. Getting help from experts is what collaboration in an organization is all about.