As human resources professionals, we often find ourselves in precarious situations, which require us to execute on directives that we simply don't support. In order to effectively manage our bosses, it's going to take grit, patience, self-confidence, diplomacy, and the ability to be persuasive. More importantly, we must have the expertise to defend our positions. Know your craft! Having said this, even the most experienced HR professional can be intimidated by an overbearing, know it all type of boss. It is our duty however, to have a balanced, just and fair approach to handling matters involving people, especially when it comes to disciplinary matters.
So how can one push back when decisions descend from on high with no regard for the possible negative impact those decisions can have on the business, and ultimately on the people? For example, if you're asked to terminate an employee for cause, where there are no grounds for the dismissal, or where the matter won't hold water because how it was mishandled before it got put on your lap, it is the duty of human resources to ensure that decisions that are in clear violation of the rights of the employees, step up and speak out with authority. If you are in an HR role, add risk management to your job description. While HR professionals may not see themselves as risk managers per se, they often are. They are mitigating legal risks and they are mitigating toxic behaviours that are destructive to the culture and morale of an organization.
Today's 21st century HR leaders understand the importance of why they must not allow themselves to be relegated to the role of "order takers." The boss says I should fire this individual, so I fire the individual. In many countries, especially in the Caribbean, labour laws are quite unique in that while they provide protection to the employee and guidelines for the employer to follow and adhere to, these laws can be nebulous at best. Many are subject to interpretation and sadly; amendments to these laws can take decades. They are so antiquated that they actually can be to the employees' disadvantage. Case and point, the workplace landscape is constantly changing, yet provisions to address things like flexible working hours, working from home, or even paternity leave with pay which 50 years ago was not even a consideration, today these provisions are. So while the world is changing, the laws aren't. Thankfully, there are good corporate citizens who have implemented policies that go above and beyond what an outdated piece of legislation requires.
But I digress. The main issue here is, how can you, as a human resources professional, manage a boss who is so far removed from what is really going on, that bad decisions can mushroom into a hostile work environment?
Clearly, a sound understanding of the legal ramifications some decisions can have is key, but that's not where it ends. I've heard many employees complain about how their human resources representatives lack compassion and impartiality. This is so unfortunate. If you are reading this and you're sitting in the chair representing the function of HR, then check yourself because before you can step out from behind and lead, you'd better ensure your own behaviours aren't impacting employee morale. Ask yourself, what am I doing to garner respect from my senior leaders so as not to be seen as an order taker? What information am I providing, so that they can make informed business decisions?
The boss that knows everything or rather thinks they know everything are by far the most difficult to manage. They are not open to constructive criticism, and effective communication is definitely not a strong suit. In this case, the best approach may be to listen. These individuals must be the center of attention so just let them. If their actions are toxic and they lack the ability to self assess their behaviours and correct them, which is almost always the case then your approach may be to do damage control on the back-end. It's extremely important not to create dissent amongst the employees who may be witnesses to this know it all style of "leadership", and I use this term quite loosely. Without going against your boss' back, allow your interpersonal relationship building skills to kick in. This is not to say that you should accept disrespectful behaviours from your boss to go unchecked, it simply means ensuring that the employees are not becoming too discouraged.
Keep in mind that not all bosses, even with a know it all type of attitude may need managing. It is possible that they possess the emotional intelligence to get their points across without being obnoxious. On the flip side, should the boss be overbearing, he or she may be clueless as to how their behaviour impacts the culture of the workplace. Someone has to rise to the occasion and let them in on this and that person may just well be you, the human resources leader.
On a positive note, some bosses are open to feedback. I called them the highly evolved leaders. They know their weaknesses and their strengths hence they surround themselves with competent individuals, fully expecting them to help guide their decision-making. They don't want a bunch of "yes sir or madam" individuals, they want people, who while they respect the leader's role, they are not afraid to challenge what can result in a bad decision.
The unique aspect of the HR leader is two-fold. Not only are we working on behalf of leadership, we are also servant leaders to the staff. This should all culminate in a positive way, with the end result being that all decisions made are always within the overall best interest of the company and by extension the employees.
Originally published on October 11, 2015 by SpeakerMatch Speakers Bureau