Crossing Swim Lanes for More Strategic Talent Management

"Stay in your swim lane." It’s a phrase most of us have heard in the workplace, at one time or another. But for human resource management professionals, line managers and the C-suite, this is the wrong advice for creating sustainable talent management advantages.

The level of people performance that businesses now demand requires HR professionals to have the courage and conviction to swim across lanes — to deeply connect with the business objectives, line managers and teams. At the same time, line managers must embrace more responsibility for talent management strategies. And business leadership must make it clear that this is a top priority.

Working Across the Racing Lanes

HR activities are often pool-wide strategies: determining salary classifications, hiring strategies, improving corporate culture, etc. That, traditionally, has been HR’s purview. But more and more HR leaders are finding that the best way to optimize human capital is to take a deep dive into the swim lanes of various organization functions. Some even spend time working in the lanes of line management to gain practical business perspectives.

Dave DeFilippo, for example, a Chief Learning Officer at Suffolk Construction, writing for Chief Learning Officer, says that one of his most valuable earlier career experiences was being a line manager. Line managers "have a significant amount of leverage on performance," he notes.

It’s easy to see how such a viewpoint can provide HR with more context to avoid operational backsplash.

Line managers, too, must get out of their comfort zones, and be trained to have at least foundational knowledge of HR as an essential business tool, not just risk management. It’s one of the many reasons why HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) introduced the Associate Professional in Human Resources™ (aPHR™) in 2016 — to raise the level of understanding about HR advantages for anyone who has people management responsibilities (that is just about anyone in the team-oriented workforce today, supervisor or not).

"Line managers have a very important role to play, not only in the day-to-day management of people and operations, but also in the implementation of HR policies, particularly in organizations where there’s a devolution of activities toward line management," according to the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Line managers, after all, are the "face of HR to employees they supervise."

The People Management Imperative

Having clear understanding of people management policies and how to implement them is now a must – from the top to the bottom in an organization. This has become even more important in recent years now that organizations have outsourced traditional HR activities.

"Adjustments in the delivery of HR have shifted responsibility for many core activities, such as recruiting or objective setting, away from HR," CIPD adds. "Furthermore, the trend toward individualization of the employment relationship has placed new burdens and opportunities in the hands of line managers."

Here’s are some tips on how HR can ignite line management as a strategic talent partner:

Train line managers and make them accountable for HR. Often, "managers don’t accept their own accountability for managing human capital, and instead want HR people to take care of it for them," says Ron Ashkenas in Harvard Business Review. A recent HRCI study, Strategic HR Emerges as a Company-Wide Priority, backs this claim: only 19 percent of line managers believe they have responsibility for helping the organization carry out strategic HR initiatives.

"Often this avoidance is based on a lack of time, skills or interest — or anxiety about getting into tough interpersonal territory,” Ashkenas says. "No matter the reason, it leaves HR people acting like the process police and chasing after recalcitrant line managers, which does very little to enhance the relationship."

Embrace new HR technology. Real-time HR metrics can now be made available to line managers. New mobile tools and talent management applications are also available to help line managers communicate HR policies, take the engagement temperatures of their departments and develop better leadership styles.

"Developments in technology – particularly in mobile technology – offer a golden opportunity to give line managers the information they need, as and when they need it," says Adam Burden in Personnel Today. "As long as HR professionals, as the owner of the policies, maintain control by facilitating the technology, it could help the groups to start to partner more effectively."

Go beyond just knowing the business. As DeFilippo notes, spending time in the line management provides an important perspective for HR professionals. Ashkenas suggests that organizations encourage rotations between HR and line business roles, in addition to ensuring that HR people have a firm grasp of the organization’s financial goals, business model, competition and critical product issues.

When HR doesn’t understand the line manager’s basic business challenges, he says, "it’s often difficult for HR people to contextualize the critical human capital processes for mangers, who then don’t know how to prioritize them.”

Get line managers to earn an aPHR certification. The aPHR, from HRCI, is designed especially for students, line managers and others who are just entering the HR field. The aPHR is a mark of excellence that demonstrates a foundational knowledge of HR principles. The certification provides a great incentive for line managers to learn how to speak the language of HR and to encourage them to work more closely to form a partnership bond with HR to build more effective teams.

At the end of the day, effective strategic talent management strategies require HR to spend more time with line managers and line manager to spend more time working on human capital challenges. By emphasizing more cross-functional activities with departments, HR can build business advantages, not just HR advantages.

It’s time to dive in!

As an HR professional, how have you worked closely with line managers to make a difference? HR Leads Business wants to hear your stories.