Industrial leaders are typically focused on the daily priorities of running their manufacturing operation, ensuring that the supply chain functions smoothly, dealing with technical or quality issues, and responding to customer or sales inquiries, issues, opportunities, or complaints.
Unfortunately, too few managers recognize the importance of the Human Resource function, or simply choose to delegate all responsibility for HR to the HR manager.
Industrial Leadership is a team sport. Of course it is reasonable to expect the HR Manager to manage and lead the HR function. The same applies to quality, safety, supply chain, operations, etc.
However, there is a significant difference between delegating and disregarding. I find many managers delegate quality responsibility to the QC department, delegate procurement functions to the Purchasing Department, but completely disregard HR functions.
When I discuss quality with a Plant Manager, I find that the manager is deeply familiar with the quality process, and is well informed about the quality systems and standards to which the company operates. The manager frequently reviews the quality performance reports and charts, and seeks to address any quality issues that may be arising. When outstanding quality performance is achieved, the manager eagerly announces, recognizes, and rewards the team for the achievement. The manager also gets directly involved to mentor the team in overcoming any issue that might be impeding the quality performance.
Many Industrial Leaders do not feel confident or competent when dealing with the Finance or Accounting Department. However, this does not deter most leaders from recognizing the importance of financial performance. They sit with the Accounting Manager on a frequent basis, review the financial performance of the organization, seek to understand any issues, and work directly with the Accounting Manager to address any issues or opportunities. They also closely monitor the P&L if for no other reason than to anticipate the bonus that they are likely to earn, or to make changes to minimize any losses and protect their job and career.
Regretfully, I too frequently observe that the HR department rarely receives the same quality of engagement, oversight, and support from the Plant Manager that other departments enjoy. Too many Plant Managers treat the HR function as little more than an unwelcome distraction from their priority tasks of running a successful business. Discipline, turnover, annual reviews, time and attendance issues, salary actions; don’t bother me with the details, just deal with the issues so I can focus on the important tasks.
HR: Human Realities
HR should never be viewed as a distraction. The HR function is certainly not less important than quality, supply chain, accounting, or sales.
Your employees are truly vital company resources. You depend upon each individual, as well as each group, team, or function, to perform their responsibilities properly, professionally, reliably, and consistently. You expect, or at least hope for, loyalty and enthusiasm from your employees. As your business develops, you need each employee to improve, expand, and grow his or her skills and experience to best support the company to achieve its broadest organizational objectives.
You have undoubtedly taken VIP visitors on a tour of your facility. You proudly take your visitor to show them the heart of your operation; the most important piece of equipment or the vital process that fundamentally defines the success of your business. You proudly describe the process details, the developmental history of the process, the key process parameters, the performance statistics such as the high output yield or the very low loss or waste. You proudly introduce the supervisor to your visitor by first name, and you may even know the names of many of the operators and technicians involved with the process.
Your VIP visitor clearly understands that you are proud of this fundamental process, are deeply engaged with the process, and understand all technical and operational details of this process inside and out. As you conclude the plant tour, your VIP has total confidence that you are the captain of your vessel, and that you and your vessel are shipshape You are fully prepared, competent, and qualified to navigate through the most difficult water and dangerous weather to deliver your passengers and cargo to your destination safely and on schedule.
Now, imagine that your VIP visitor doesn’t want to tour your facility. Instead, you are asked to take the VIP visitor on a tour of your HR department.
Are you capable of giving the same quality of introduction to the HR department? Are you confident to discuss the details of the HR department, the fundamentals of your HR policy, the developmental history of your HR process, the vital HR statistics such as turnover, sickness, employee training and development, disciplinary actions and the intervention steps to promote responsible behaviors and avoid incidents that lead to disciplinary violations. Can you explain to the VIP the aspects of your HR function that you are most proud of, and describe the current initiatives that you are pursuing to take your HR function to the next level of achievement?
At the end of your HR department tour, would your VIP visitor have the same level of confidence in you? Most likely, the VIP would leave the tour concerned that you’re obviously not familiar with the charts, can’t plot a course, and if the HR manager depends upon your guidance and leadership, your vessel will most likely end up on the rocks or sunk far beneath the waves, with all hands lost.
No Second Chances
Being an Industrial Leader is a very serious business. Mistakes can have very serious consequences. Out on the factory floor, a single major mistake can result in serious disruption of your production process, serious damage to expensive equipment, massive warranty claims for defective products that could threaten the financial health of the business, and could even lead to the death or serious injury of facility employees, contractors, or to consumers of your defective product.
Fortunately, most factory mistakes don’t result in such serious consequences. Our modern industrial processes have safeguards to protect against most if not all foreseeable mistakes.
The most common mistakes involve small changes that just don’t work as well as we might have hoped. We try a new machine or component; if it works we keep it, if it doesn’t we discard it or upgrade it and try again.
If we install a new motor on a machine, and the motor vibrates, runs hot, makes too much noise, or otherwise fails to meet our expectations, we can replace it. The machine doesn’t get angry that we installed a bad motor on it. The machine doesn’t hold a grudge. The machine doesn’t tell other machines that we are thoughtless and incompetent. The machine doesn’t quit and go work for a competitor.
Regretfully, most humans are far less tolerant when they are subject to mistakes, whether real or imagined. If you hire or transfer an employee into a position where their salary is significantly more or less than their peers in the same job, you can be sure that someone will perceive this as a mistake and will not be happy. Are you going to raise everyone’s salary to match the highest salary? Are you going to cut the high salary to match the average for the position? Are you going to terminate or relocate the new employee to solve the problem, even if the employee has performed well in the position and prefers to stay? Is everyone or anyone going to understand and accept your solution to the problem? Will you or your management team ever be forgiven for making the mistake?
Most HR mistakes do not lead to loss of life, though workplace violence is a modern reality. Disgruntled employees can cause great trauma and disruption to a workplace. Nearly all HR mistakes carry serious consequences, and most mistakes can be very difficult to satisfactorily address and resolve.
HR issues involve real people, and mistakes or issues can directly and seriously impact both the employee and the employee’s family. Terminations are especially disruptive and damaging to an employee and family. Hiring too many people, with the intention of keeping the best and terminating the poor performers, can have devastating consequences on those individuals who are terminated. Did they fail to perform adequately, or did you fail to recruit them responsibly?
If you are an Industrial Leader who thinks you can delegate and disregard HR issues, secure in the knowledge that you are devoting your time to the more important priorities of your company, you are seriously mistaken.
You are not the Accounting expert, but you diligently monitor the Accounting Department, ask responsible questions, seek to provide support and encouragement, and strive to improve your personal accounting and finance skills.
You are not the Quality expert, but you have carefully read and considered your Quality Manual, you have studied the ISO 9000 process, you have participated in surveillance audits, quality reviews, and supplier audits. You routinely review the quality performance statistics and reports. You promote and support the quality process and the quality department, and you work to expand and enhance your knowledge of quality management.
You are not the Process Engineer, and you might not have an engineering degree, or have a degree in an unrelated engineering discipline. However, you recognize the importance of process integrity, you have worked diligently to understand the process fundamentals, and you understand the risks and hazards associated with the process. You engage with the process experts, and you seek responsible opportunities to continuously improve the process to maximize the operational and financial performance of the business to best serve your shareholders, stakeholders, and customers.
Just because you are not an HR expert either, do not make the mistake of failing to give equal attention to the HR department. I don’t recommend that you rename your HR department, because it might cause confusion both internally and externally. However, I strongly recommend that you think of your HR function as being the Vital Resources Department.
You have a lot of diverse responsibilities. You have daily challenges that are competing for your time and attention. It is too easy to relegate HR issues to the bottom of your priority list, where they will languish until the issues grow into crises.
Manage your HR Department just as you do any other vital organizational function or department. Even though you are not an HR expert, you must accept and internalize the vital importance of the HR function.
You must carefully read and understand the Employee Manual and all other HR Policies and Procedures. You are the leader of the company; you have the big picture. You understand how all the pieces of your corporate puzzle fit together. Does your Employee Manual and HR Policies and Procedures integrate properly into your vision of your organization?
I find that there are typically small issues, and sometimes major issues, where HR documentation is not properly optimized to achieve the best performance for the organization. Does this mean the HR manager failed? Almost certainly not. What it does mean is that the HR Manager doesn’t have access to the same “big picture” or “helicopter view” that the Plant Manager or Managing Director has. It is always the responsibility of the leader to ensure that each piece of the management puzzle fits properly and optimally into the overall organizational puzzle.
You must be a partner and mentor to the HR Manager. Provide your best support and encouragement to the HR function. Ensure that the HR department has the resources they require to most effectively and efficiently discharge their responsibilities.
Seek every opportunity to improve your HR skills and competencies.
When you take care of your Vital Resources with the same diligence and intensity as you devote to your other business functions and departments, you will achieve the maximum performance and efficiency from each of your individual employees, groups, teams, and departments. Your organization will never achieve its full potential unless your Vital Resources Department receives the support, supervision, and recognition that it deserves.