Role Of The Line Manager
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Published: Thu, 18 May 2017
The essay topic I have chosen is “the role of the line manager as a facilitator of HRD”. The reasons behind my choice are as a result of my experience of working with Citigroup on my INTRA placement. I gained first hand experience of the efforts made by, and at times the shortfalls of my line manager when she was interacting with my fellow employees and I. I discovered that the line manager can have a profound influence on the attitudes towards work held by their subordinates, and this can affect the level and degree of learning which takes place within the work environment. I found that poor management of the facilitation of HRD training was detrimental to both my fellow employee’s development, general level of contentment and satisfaction within the workplace and their overall productivity within their roles.
My essay will first deal with the responsibilties of the line manager in facilitating HRD. Subsequently, it will deal with the methods by which HRD can be implemented by line managers. It will also address the implications of greater line manager involvement in HRD. My aim is to provide a deeper understanding of the managerial processes that managers can employ to facilitate knowledge integration and transfer to their co-workers.
A line manager can be defined as a ‘management figure who is authorized to direct the work of subordinates and is responsible for accomplishing organizational goals’. (Dessler, G, 2000).
A line manager is traditionally held accountable for ensuring that results are satisfactory and enabling the achievement of goals through the employees who report to them. In recent years, the expectations of the line manager’s role have changed. Line managers are increasingly entrusted with human resource development, and in some instances are held accountable for any shortfalls in adheering to this new responsibility. It can prove difficult for line managers to take on the additional responsibility due to existing workloads, lack of skills and inexperience of fulfilling such a role.
Line managers, rather than HRD specialists, are very familiar with the business context of both organizational and individual learning needs. They are closer to the daily operations and customers. This gives line managers a unique knowledge advantage concerning organisational realities and needs, which can aid their understanding of issues arising in the daily context of work, and knowledge gaps among the workforce.
There has been a move towards line managers assuming roles with a developmental focus and undertaking positions as facilitators of learning and skill expansion. This move is a part of the recent trend of empowering employees at all levels in an organisation to expand their knowledge base and responsibilities to ensure that a variety of multiskilled employees are on hand to tackle any situation that the business may be able to direct them at. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
In order to be equipped to tackle a role in HRD, substantial investments in capacity and skill development of line managers is necessary to ensure that they are equipped to carry out their new responsibilities. Ultimately, the development and performance of a business’ workforce is substantially influenced by the management they operate under. Investing the necessary time, money and effort into this area is critical for the effective operation and development of an organisation’s processes and the employees who are charged with carrying these out. This is important as, ‘one of the principle reasons for members of the workforce leaving an organisation is due to perceived poor handling of the manner in which their talents and skills base are managed (Hay, 2002, p52-55).’
According to Gennard and Kelly, encouraging line managers to participate in a more centralised and involved role in HRD provides opportunities for them to experience personal growth and greater competencies as a by product of this new responsibility. The stand to gain greater competencies in managing and maintaining relationships with the people they work with on a day-to-day basis. This would be possible because of their familiarity with both the needs and expectations of employees on a business wide as well as a personal level (1997, p27-42).
It is paramount that line managers recognise their role in facilitating and providing for a working environment which both promotes and supports learning. They must be aware of how critical this step is to securing the best learning environment possible for their subordinates. This entails implementing a programme of continuous learning. This would encompass on-the-job training, which from personal experience – I can confidently state that I found to be far more beneficial than my time spend in classroom based training sessions in the workplace. Incorporating an effective system of both formal and informal learning and feedback on a continuous basis should be recognised not just as a benefit, but as a necessity of the everyday working environment. This should be done from the very beginning of an employee’s tenure in a business organisation.
Individual employees should be given encouragement to seek and take control of their learning process, and attempts at looking to better themselves should be recognised and where appropriate, rewarded. Opportunities should be provided by the line manager to utilise ‘cross training to enhance their skills base, meetings to provide and receive feedback on job performance and shortfalls and mentoring programs to help employees to adapt to life in their working environment’ as seamlessly and comfortably as possible (Cunningham, and Hyman, 1997, p9-27).
According to the study by Jurgita Å iugÅ¾dinien, five main roles were identified which demonstrate what is expected by line managers in the context of HRD. These were that:
- Line managers are expected to discuss the performance and professional development of their subordinates with them on a regular basis.
- They are expected to liase with HRD training specialists on a wide variety of HRD and HRM issues to ensure advancement of development programs and constant feedback.
- They should show an active interest in conveying their interest in and support for the learning of their subordinates as part of their day-to-day responsibilities in their role.
- They should be proactive and heavily involved in the training and learning and development aspect of their subordinate’s learning within the workplace.
- They should be actively involved in the development of HRD strategy (2008, p33).
An important influence on the attitudes of line managers towards HRD is their perception of the role they play in the development process, which ultimately affects their attitudes and motivations towards their part in the process. A study by Andrea D. Ellinger and Robert P. Bostrom, found that line managers differentiate between how they perceive their roles in facilitating the learning of employees in learning oriented organisations. Their study found that managers see a distinction between ‘managing’ and ‘coaching’. They see them as being separate functions and in some cases, opposing influences on each other – requiring a different skill set to effectively implement them. ‘Managers’ were perceived as being those in charge – in positions of authority. Conversely, coaches were viewed as those in their positions who were entrusted with helping employees to succeed (2002, p147-179).
On major barrier in the effective implementation of HRD duties by line managers is due to a lack of coaching skills and insufficient line management motivation. This outlook on the role in question is reinforced by findings that the least popular HRD delivery mechanisms include coaching and mentoring. According to Heraty, this may be due to the large commitment of time and resources needed, or that it varies considerably from the speciality skills that managers generally possess and are used to implementing in their own tried and tested fashion (2000. p21-33). By making the process more attractive to both those who administer and receive this form of HRD delivery, it is likely that organisations would see beneficial implications for the business, management and employees themselves.
According to a study by McGovern and Gratton, some managers are of the opinion that they expect the HRD function to disappear over time, ‘as learning issues become ever more integrated with the responsibilities of general management’. In other cases, some managers appear to see a different role for HRD professionals in the future as they transfer to the role of organizational change consultants. The study notes that the responsibility for HRD is not commonly included within the terms of a line manager’s performance objectives. ‘It may prove difficult for line managers to act in two opposing roles – that of an assessor and that of a coach. Furthermore, line managers are not specialists in HRD. They may lack the necessary confidence, knowledge and organizational support to assume the required responsibility for HRD implementation’ (1997, p12-29).
According to a study by Renwick, there are significant differences in the role of line managers based on the nature of business undertaken by their organisations. ‘Based on the ownership of the organisations; there are significant differences in line managers’ role in performance counselling, career planning, salary decisions, grievance handling, and employee termination” (2003, p262-280). This indicates that it is necessary to clarify what exactly is expected of line managers with regard to HRD, and what becomes of the role of HRD professionals should responsibility transfer to line management.
Research by Ellinger and Bostrom indicated that managers were viewed as those who have to make the hard decisions, some of which would not be viewed as being consistent with those of being a coach. Managers were perceived to be involved in actions such as ‘ordering, judging and controlling’ the employees they worked with, whereas coaches had far more of a positive influence on their employees learning and morale, by empowering them to learn, helping them to more fully understand and removing as many obstacles that may inhibit their ability to learn.
Conversely, coaches/HRD staff were seen to have far more of an influence in empowering employees to make decisions and in the process, to grow and develop into so that they can exert more influence as they increase their abilities and competencies. Managers and coaches in this study agreed that these roles were, in many cases, ‘distinct from each other and there were differing mental models and approaches that tied in with each role which influence how managers perceive different situations’ and how their approach will vary when addressing a situation depending on these models (2002, p147-179).
All of the managers in the aforementioned study envisaged their role and responsibilities as entailing helping their employees to grow and develop – to make sure that they understand how their role ties in to the rest of the organisation and how they can fulfil what is expected of them in this capacity. Managers in the study viewed the roles of being a manager and the concept of being a facilitator of learning as ‘dichotomous roles’, but acknowledged that there were ‘eventualities which would involved moving between these roles in the nature of their work’ (Ellinger and Bostrom, 2002, p147-179).
Since line managers usually are not specialists in HRD, they should be periodically screened and assessed with respect to their performance in fulfilling their roles, and their understanding of various learning needs. This should be done in both their area of their specialty, and in the area of Human Resource Development to ensure they are sufficiently confident and competent. It is important to increase their skill and knowledge in HRD, and it is advisable to consider incorporating HRD skills training in all varieties of training packages for managers. The capacity of line managers to provide advice and consultancy to all employees, be they managers or subordinates, should also be developed.
Senior managers must be highly supportive in the HRD role of line managers, and an incentive system should be developed to motivate them to embrace it more fully through co-operation with HRD staff and additional training. This is essential, as ‘acting as a HRD facilitator demands a coaching management style, as opposed to a directive management style’ (Garavan, 1995, 11-16).
The trend of increased line manager involvement is identified in the study by de Jong. He states that ‘there is a tendency toward decentralizing HRD responsibilities within organizations’. He categorises the new line manager functions into three distinct areas:
- ‘Analytic role: just as first-level managers are expected to discuss periodically the performance and the developmental needs of their subordinates, they should be periodically screened with respect to their performance and their developmental needs in respect of production and also in people management.
- Supportive role: just as they are expected to show interest in their subordinates’ developmental activities on a daily basis, line managers should experience continuous support from their superiors in their attempts to improve their skills.
- Trainer role: Just as they should provide training and coaching to their subordinates, they should receive instruction and guidance in order to develop in their management role (1999, pp176-183)’.
Greater management involvement in HRD reflects a significant transformation of line management responsibility in organisations. Before displacing traditional HRD roles, substantial investments in the capacity development of line managers is needed to ensure that they are capable of carrying out their new responsibilities.
It can be concluded that line managers have not assumed responsibility for HRD across the board. It is difficult to fulfil this role, either because of their workload, lack of skill or lack of traditional management involvement in this area. Cooperation between line management and HRD specialists exists. However a lack of line managers’ involvement in HRD, as well as limited capacities of HRD specialists to support, liaise and consult with line managers can hinder this process.
Future research into this area may reveal approaches by which managers can be trained in order to gain the required skill sets to be able to handle both levels of competency in which there is currently a grey area. Removing the rigid views of what it takes to be a ‘manager’ or ‘HRD professional’ and incorporating a new perspective of what the expectations of a line manager are in this process is an essential step in reconciling this process. Only after doing so can progressive steps be taken in implementing the line manager firmly in a position to facilitate an effective HRD function as part of their role.
Line managers should be given more ownership of HRD strategies, allowing them to have more involvement in decision making at the policy formulation level. They should also be given the opportunity to provide input into developing a more strategic partnership with HRD specialists. In this way, they would develop a better understanding of the broader perspective of both roles and could address any weaknesses in the process. Taking an active role in supporting their employees in learning and development should become an integral part of a line manager’s performance objectives.
- Cunningham I. and Hyman J. (1997) Devolving human resource responsibilities to the line: Beginning of the end or new beginning for personnel? Personnel Review, Vol.28, No.1/2, pp9-27.
- de Jong J.A., Leenders F.J. and Thijssen J.G.L.(1999) HRD tasks of first level managers. Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol.11, Issue 5, pp176-183.
- Dessler, G. (2000) Human Resource Management. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River,
- Ellinger, A.D. and Bostrom, R.P. (2002) ‘An Examination of Managers’ Beliefs about their Roles as Facilitators of Learning’, Management Learning, 33 (2): 147-79
- Garavan, T. N. (1995) Stakeholders and Strategic Human Resource Development. Journal of European Industrial Training, 1995, Vol. 19, No 10, 11-16.
- Gennard J. and Kelly J. (1997) The unimportance of labels: the diffusion of the personnel/ HRM function Industrial Relations Journal, Vol.28, No.1, pp27-42.
- Gibb S. (2003) Line manager involvement in learning and development: Small beer or big deal? Employee Relations, Vol.25, No.3, pp281-293.
- Hay, M. Strategies for Survival in the War of Talent,.Career Development International, 2002, Vol. 7, No 1, 52-55.
- Heraty N. and Morley M. (1995) Line managers and human resource development. Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol.19, Issue 10, pp31-37.
- Hutchinson, S. and Purcell, J.(2003) Bringing Policies to Life: The vital role of front line managers in people management. CIPD, London.
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- Renwick D. (2003) Line manager involvement in HRM: an inside view? Employee Relations, Vol.25, No.3, pp262-280.
- Å iugÅ¾dinien, Jurgita (2008) Line Manager Involvement in Human Resource Development, VIEÅ OJI POLITIKA IR ADMINISTRAVIMAS, p32-36
- Thornhill A.and Saunders M.N.K. (1998), ‘What if line managers don’t realize they’re responsible for HR? Lessons from an organisation experiencing rapid change’, Personnel Review, Vol.27, No.6, pp460-476.
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