HR Managers - Why don't you trust the capabilities of your Operational Managers?

Are you limiting innovation in the workplace without realising it?

As a consultant who works with many different organisations and HR teams, I often wonder why so many HR managers consistently have such low opinions of their Operational Managers' capabilities to embrace strategic or innovative HR concepts, systems and tools.

My experience permits me a reasonably educated guess.

When attempting to understand any perceptions that we have of others, we must take into consideration the consistent nature of the interactions we have with them. Those interactions become the evidence that we use to build assumptions about the person and how they behave beyond our direct interactions with them.

This is part of human nature.

While it is normal. It is flawed.

People are not the sum of their interactions with us personally. 

To adopt this view is somewhat narcissistic.

If we stop and considered how someone may behave when they are not in our presence, we can quickly appreciate that the behaviours we may be experiencing may not be indicative of the normal behaviour of the person. 

Rather they may only be the normal behaviour when interacting on the topics and issues that we commonly interact with them on. If we interacted on other topics and issues, we would likely find very different behaviours. This in turn would modify our perception of the other person.

The challenge with this, is that we have to stop and invest the time in taking this cognitive workout - and most of us don't. We just tend to judge what we see and extend this out to apply to the person holistically.

Let's now consider the types of regular interactions that HR managers have with Operations Managers.

They are most often asked to be involved in resolving problems. They build their relationships with Operational Managers based on “putting out fires” or more of the “tactical and administrative” work that makes up a reasonable proportion of HR business partner responsibilities. HR managers see the operational manager through this lenses. Operational Managers see HR Managers through the same lenses.

If we take this into consideration, we can appreciate the perceptions that start to build over time about the interest and indeed the capability of the operational managers to take on more than the elementary HR issues or challenges.

In short, if you treat someone like they are not capable of change, you never give them the opportunity to prove you wrong. The interaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I challenge you to challenge your beliefs.

When I have experienced HR managers taking a leap of faith and actually start to engage with operational managers on more strategic or innovative HR concepts or projects, they are often surprised and delighted at what they experience.

At this time of the calendar year, it is a great time to stop and reflect on the relationships we have built in the last 12 months.

You might want to ask - what is the quality and what level of satisfaction resides in those relationships?

With my executive coaching clients, I ask them to do this as a way of reflecting and then evaluating both what has led to this, and what can be done to strengthen it in the coming months.

This active reflection based exercise also allows for positive reinforcement of what has led to strong relationship and what may have been lacking from those that need more attention.

For any executive and indeed for any shared service provider, this active reflection exercise is an excellent one to do.

For HR managers and their relationships and perceptions of operational managers, it is worth considering what may have been lacking and what we as the shared service provider can do to change the frequency and nature of the interactions we are having with them in 2015. Our perceptions of them will likely we change if we ourselves choose to make some changes.

Anthony Sork is an Executive Coach and is Managing Director of Sork HC. He is a regular writer on Leadership, Human Capital and Employee Attachment topics. Sork HC has just launched a new platform for measuring and managing Employee Attachment and Detachment called shcBOND. Find our more at


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