The role of line managers in HR management

March 2011

Dear clients,

“Today a career is no longer a straight climb up the corporate ladder, but rather an undulating journey of climbs and lateral moves. The proverbial corporate ladder is evolving, right before our eyes, into a corporate lattice. In contrast to the more limited options provided by the corporate ladder, the corporate lattice makes it possible for employees to customize careers — to the benefit of both the individual and the organisation. The result is an adaptive model of career progression that offers employees career-long options for keeping their work and personal lives in sync and employers the long-term loyalty of their best and brightest talent” DELOITTE. 2009. Building a Lattice Organization.

It would be shortsighted of us not to realise the changing nature of career development and our role as HR professionals and line managers within this changing landscape. We need to know how it impacts on all our learning and development practices.

In this edition of the LeMaSa Chronicle we highlight the role of the line manager in Human Resources management as well as career management.

I wish you the best in building a productive HR/line management partnership!


Sandra Schlebusch

Career Management

“Today’s workforce is not satisfied simply with finding a job, but is intent on establishing a career. Career development is an invaluable retention tool for employees. After implementing its Career Support Program, Sun Microsystems experienced a return-on-investment (ROI) of approximately 183 percent from decreased turnover and reduced outplacement costs. In addition, employee career development plans contribute to an organization’s succession planning and leadership development programs by allowing individuals to realize their full potential within the organization” (Corporate Leadership Council, 2003).

Career Planning is a process of analysing an individual’s situation, specifying his or her career goals and exploiting the various means to realise these goals. Career development is a formal approach taken by the enterprise to ensure that employees with proper qualifications and experience are available when they are needed by the enterprise (Gerber, Nel & van Dyk, 1993). Career management is the overarching process that involves both Career Planning and Career Development.
A CIPD Survey showed that, on balance, HR practitioners believe that organisations should be adopting a “partnership model” approach to career management. In this partnership deal, individuals should “own” their own careers – but employers should support them by offering advice, support and training. The reality however, seems to be that individuals are pushed towards fulfilling their side of the “deal”, taking ownership for their own career development, but most employers are not delivering their side of the deal.

The CIPD survey shows that getting involvement in career management from line managers is still an uphill struggle. Career management activities are mostly driven by the HR function and by individuals with the Board taking rather secondary responsibility. It seems that the line will play a part but need to be coaxed and cajoled by the HR function on the one hand and employees on the other. HR practitioners need to devise ways of helping line managers support career development more effectively particularly since one of the major barriers to career management is reported as being a “lack of time” (Oglethorpe, 2010).
If organisations were really serious about line managers taking the lead in supporting the career management of their staff, they would train them to do it. Not surprisingly, the survey shows only a minority of managers receive such training. This will reinforce the “optional extra” status which career management so often has in the line – nice if you have the time and interest, but not really all that important (Oglethorpe, 2010).

THE CORPORATE LEADERSHIP COUNCIL. 2003. Implementing Career Development Initiatives.
OGLETHORPE, A. 2010. Career Management: Best Practices in Organisations and the Implications for HR.

The role of line managers in Human Resources Management
In 2011 and beyond, as the economy recovers, Human Resources Management (HRM)/Talent Management will become an increasingly strategic issue for many businesses, as their future success will be based on the success of their people. Organisations listened to their customers during the economic downturn in order to retain them, and the same principle should now apply to employees. Research shows that line managers play a pivotal role in terms of implementing and enacting HR policies and practices. Research further shows that when employees feel positive about their relationship with their line managers they are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty which are associated with higher levels of performance or discretionary behaviour. Line managers also play the strongest part in structuring people’s actual experience of doing a job. The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD, 2010) identified the following areas where line managers make a significant difference to people management practices: • performance appraisal • training, coaching and guidance • employee engagement (involvement and communication) • openness – how easy is it for employees to discuss matters with their line manager • work-life balance • recognition – the extent to which employees feel their contribution is recognised The CIPD (2010) further states that although the processes for the areas mentioned above may be designed by HR, it cannot be delivered by HR. The line manager role is crucial in a number of respects: • in enabling the HR policies and practices, or bringing them to life • in acting upon advice or guidance from HR • in controlling the work flow by directing and guiding the work of others. However, line managers often have conflicting priorities and role overload and do not always pay enough attention to their people management activities. One of the reasons for this is that they are not equipped with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to be effective. This leads to line managers sometimes effectively abdicating their responsibility for aspects of people management. The phrase “that’s HR’s job” is heard too often in many organisations – whether describing employee development, dealing with discipline or dealing with wellbeing issues. Ineffective people management by line managers doesn’t just impact on the HR department: it hurts the bottom line. Recent research involving nearly 3,000 employers by the Work Foundation and the Institute for Employment Studies found that organisations with a comprehensive, structured approach to people management, covering areas such as recruitment, development plans and employee appraisals, perform measurably better than those without, indicated by higher profits per employee, higher profit margins and higher productivity. Empowering line managers with the necessary knowledge to effectively deal with HR issues in the workplace will contribute significantly to the success and sustainability of the organisation.