Anyone who's been in HR long enough knows there is a big focus on creating a people-centric workplace, especially after last year. We've talked a bunch about how organizations today are rethinking and revamping their people strategies to help set their teams up for success. HR leaders everywhere are evaluating the moments that matter to their employees and enhancing the employee experience to better help attract, develop, and retain their workforce.

Obviously all that is great and important work — but what about your people managers? They're critical to making all your people strategies stick, but they've got very different needs than individual contributors or frontline employees do. So how can HR reach them and build a constructive strategic relationship? Let's explore.

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How HR and managers connect: Maximizing support and overcoming challenges

According to a recent study conducted by UKG and HCI, now there is a higher demand than ever before for HR to build strong partnerships with people managers and ensure their success. The study found that high-performing organizations (HPOs) know that creating a compelling experience for employees as a whole starts with people managers, and that they make some different investments than other organizations to reflect that.

It makes sense when you think about it. After all, people managers are the backbone of your people experience. They're responsible for helping hire the right people, training and developing employees in the right ways, keeping everyone productive, and building an environment your people actually want to work in. But for people managers to be effective and to do their jobs well, they need support from their HR partners to understand wider business strategy and align on priorities.

The issue is that while many organizations understand the importance of a strong relationship between HR and people managers, they've had a hard time getting there. In fact, 78 percent of the people we surveyed in the study with HCI I mentioned earlier said they don't believe HR practitioners and people managers work well together at their organization. That's not an encouraging trend, as disconnects between HR and managers can cause many negative impacts on both employees and the business overall.

So what can we do to overcome this challenge? Well, it turns out that as you journey toward becoming a strategic partner by resetting internal relationships at your organization, people managers are a great place to start if you're willing to put in the work. Here are 4 areas you can focus on to support them effectively and begin rebuilding the kinds of relationships that will ensure success for everyone.

1. Communicate in a collaborative way

Communication is the cornerstone for any relationship, and when it comes to HR and people managers it is paramount. Communication with people managers needs to happen on a regular cadence and should be collaborative. While you always need to communicate updates to new policies or changes to existing policies, people managers also need to have a timely and clear understanding of the goals and direction of the business and what that means to them and their employees, which is information HR can and should provide.

A big step toward this level of communication is not just telling each other what, but also telling each other why. Get insight into the day-to-day operations of people managers, and let them have insight into what the day-to-day goals and priorities of the HR practice are. When both groups understand the motivations behind the requests, updates, and general messages being exchanged, it opens the door for more honest communication and feedback that can help frame more effective strategies going forward.

When HR and people managers communicate from a place of honesty and strategize together around their people and the business, they build credibility and reliability. When people managers clearly understand and have updated and reliable information from HR they can share with their employees, they begin to help build an inspired workforce and a culture of trust.

2. Know the challenges and successes of individual people managers

Not all people managers are the same. Each has their own strong points and growth opportunities. Just like the moments that matter in the employee experience, there are opportunities to connect with your people managers through their employment journey. Understanding what they value most can help you identify how to help them reach their personal goals as well as the goals set for their team.

One way to go about discovering this is for HR to look at each manager as an individual. This requires having the emotional intelligence and empathy to direct strategic conversations toward what managers need to be successful, where they're doing well, and areas where they feel they need improvement. Then provide them with the training, tools, and resources needed to help them get there. Of course, none of this is possible if you haven't built up the trust and credibility we just talked about through collaborative communication. See what I did there?

When HR truly understands people managers on an individual and personal level, like we often strive so hard to do with our frontline employees, we can then provide the kinds of personalized experiences that help them be at their best. And when people managers are at their best, they can execute on tasks more strategically and help build up both your organization and its culture.

3. Offer coaching and development proactively

As I've already hinted at in the first two points, the quickest way to grow the HR and people manager relationship is to remember this is a relationship. It takes both parties pulling together equally to continue to grow and develop their skills. That means bringing new development opportunities to light proactively as they come up rather than forcing some kind of obligatory training once or twice a year. That way, the conversation between managers and HR continues to feel fresh, dynamic, and beneficial for everyone involved.

For HR, this is an opportunity to keep up with the latest trends and research that is happening in the world of HR and bring relevant insights back to people managers to put in practice. This will help you address any questions or concerns that your people managers bring to your attention with the most up-to-date solutions. It will also give you the ability to take proactive measures to support the vision and goals of you people managers and the business.

For people managers, the opportunity is actively developing leadership skills by surfacing practical examples where HR professionals' coaching, guidance, and expertise will have the most impact. Give managers opportunities to talk with you about and anticipate developmental or talent needs, and encourage them to help identify the right programs and training needed to meet those needs.

Data is a great way to help managers find trends happening with their teams and themselves.  Listening to their needs and matching those up with your people data can help you take proactive steps in career development planning and help your people managers feel they had a hand in that process.

4. Provide the right tools and data

Speaking of data, people managers are looking for tools to help them work smarter, make quick decisions, improve engagement and productivity, and control labor costs. That's why one of the most important tools you can provide your people managers with is access to the right kinds of insights into their teams and the organization. That's right, it can't just be any old data. They need real-time information that provides actionable intelligence if you want them to make better business decisions.

People managers can't just be reactive; they need to spot trends happening with their people and department, such as employees at risk of leaving the organization, performance and productivity trends, and whether or not they're on track to meet company benchmarks. They need data to determine scheduling needs, headcount, and skills to develop. They need insight into all costs related to labor so they can so they can establish budgets and plan for the future to meet the demands of the business. Put simply, people managers need self-service tools that can help them monitor, analyze, and predict the success of their people.

HR plays a critical role in ensuring people managers have the tools needed to make these critical business decisions, as HR technology should ideally provide the most up-to-date view of your people as a whole and specific managers' teams. Data is also important for you as an HR practitioner to drive fact-based conversations with people managers so you can help guide them in a successful direction.

The key is that you help curate data for your people managers and tie the information you share back to wider strategies and goals. Use your people data to tell a story and show your managers a clear path to the impacts they're having on business success, labor cost, budgets, culture, and engagement. This gives even more motivation to collaborate with HR and helps managers function independently by ensuring they're looking at the right metrics instead of spinning their wheels.

Conclusion: The time is now to reset HR's relationship with people managers

Believe it or not, there's no better time than the current environment for HR pros to really understand what people managers need to be successful. Processes are all shifting an changing constantly, so if you can reset your relationships and ensure that they move in the right direction, you can take control over that change to align all the key teams at your organization around the most strategic goals. Communicating that clear vision will also motivate your managers in the process, and will ripple out to energize their teams.

If you'd like more insights into why now is the time to act in this important area, check out our full research report with HCI. It will give you some more great data and ideas for moving your organization forward as a strategic business partner in the new year.

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Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2021