Line managers and HR

In most Organization Design projects line managers work with either internal or external consultants. Yesterday I was working with a group of HR people, here in Shanghai, who are also frequently involved in organization design and change management projects. They come to these with some disadvantages – mainly related to the way 'the business' perceives HR skills and roles. (See the article 'Why we Hate HR')

Those I was working with wanted some help in overcoming this perception, and I remembered I'd written a chapter on this in my book Organization Design: the collaborative approach. Here's the relevant extract from that book.

Organization design project require a good partnership between the HR consultant and line manager. To check whether you are on track for making this a successful relationship, ask yourselves the following questions:

• Have you established rapport? One measure of this feeling comfortable in each other's presence so that even if there is a hierarchical difference between you this does not interfere with the authenticity you can show and the trust you can place in each other to achieve a common goal in the face of setbacks, obstacles and competing demands.

• Have you determined your partnership approach and roles? What you are looking to confirm here is that the roles you take enable you to maintain a balance of power and interest over time. You each need each other if the work is to get done and the relationship is to last to the end of the project's final review. You should aim for a reciprocal relationship where you are both giving and receiving. Only you will be able to judge equity in this relationship and take steps to redress the balance if necessary.

• Are you confident you have sufficient complementary skills and attributes to work as a successful team? As has been stated you both need to be able to take a step back and assess your own strengths and discuss these with each other. Identifying any shortfall requires you to take some form of action to plug in the missing attributes to make your project leadership strong.

• Are you sure you can role model change behaviours? Your reflection on your attitudes to change and how easy or difficult you have found it in the past to change your behaviour will give you clues on your ability to role model change behaviours. As facilitators you must not only understand the nature of change processes and how they affect you, but also how people in your organization may be experiencing particular changes, and how this will impact the success of the venture.

• Have you got the change management technical skills? It is not enough to have the personal qualities necessary to make success in the project a likelihood you also need to have some knowledge and understanding of the technicalities of organization design and change management. If you do not have this it may be worth taking a short course in these or at least doing some of the reading recommended in this book.

• Have you got a go-forward plan? During your first meetings you need to agree when and how you are going to do the phase 1 data gathering and how you are going to communicate on this. Additionally you need to have thought through which of you is going to approach those you have identified as prime stakeholders in this project.

• Are you agreed on the focus and approach? The OD method advocated here is based in collaboration, participation and involvement. If your styles of operation are at odds with this it will be difficult, and probably impossible, for you to work with what is described. However if this is the case it may be worth reflecting on whether you can change your style of operation. There is ample evidence to suggest that successful change projects recognise and use the fact that employees want to be a part of a process, not apart from it.

• Do spend some time agreeing your roles up front so that you are presenting consistent messages
• Do be honest with yourselves about your capabilities
• Do make sound judgements about the time and commitment you can devote to this project
• Don't proceed unaided if you identify that you don't have the necessary skillset between you
• Don't fight shy of giving each other the necessary challenge and support in formulating your preliminary plan
• Don't agree to work with each other if you do not have the right level of rapport and understanding. (This will feel like a long-haul even if it is of relatively short duration).