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4 ways HR can support and develop managers

Managers may be inexperienced and require help facing today's business challenges. Learn how HR leaders can help managers succeed in their roles.

In today's world of never-ending disruptions, managers need all the help they can get -- and HR needs to make sure they get it.

Managers serve a critical role in supporting employee experience and preventing high turnover. But they must also ensure employee productivity in a world where bad news and distractions are ongoing. Balancing these two sides requires soft skills such as empathy and leadership skills when they aren't always clear on why upper management is making certain decisions. It's a tricky balance, and HR has an important role in supporting and developing managers so they can support the company in the best way possible.

Here are some ways HR leaders can best help managers.

1. Make the business case for manager development

HR leaders must advocate for managers' development and get budgetary buy-in from upper management. For example, the HR department may need to purchase additional learning and development software to train managers on compensation discussions with subordinates.

Headshot of Jim Frawley, founder of BellwetherJim Frawley

One major concern for senior management is return on investment, said Jim Frawley, founder of Bellwether, an executive development consultancy located in New York. HR leaders must illustrate the potential ROI that can result from developing these individuals.

"There are businesspeople who just aren't interested in that conversation, but it's definitely worth the fight," Frawley said.

2. Help managers build soft skills

HR leaders should help empower managers through training that helps them improve their soft skills, which can help them carry out the more difficult aspects of the job.

Headshot of Michael Timmes, human resource consultant at InsperityMichael Timmes

Many managers are uncertain about how to carry out some aspects of the job, said Michael Timmes, human resource consultant at Insperity, an HR services firm located in Houston.

"When I sit down and talk to folks about employee relations issues, [they say,] 'I really want to help this individual, but I'm just not sure if I'm doing the right thing,'" Timmes said.

For example, managers may require training in leading a discussion on a sensitive topic, like a direct report constantly showing up late for work.

Frawley said the following points are some of the most important to cover during training on how to conduct a difficult conversation:

  • separating emotion from logic;
  • validating an employee's concerns without necessarily agreeing with them;
  • working through an employee's concerns; and
  • identifying the areas in which the manager can help the employee.

3. Advocate for a culture of openness

HR can work with upper management to create a culture of openness and feedback, then foster communication among managers. That includes encouraging even critical feedback, albeit voiced in the appropriate manner. Innovation and agility is unlikely to happen if a company's culture is rigid and not open to worker feedback.

Headshot of Banks Benitez, founder of Smart WorkweekBanks Benitez

Company leaders should even ask outright for dissenting opinions, said Banks Benitez, founder of Smart Workweek, a Denver-based consulting service for organizations seeking to implement a four-day workweek.

"Leaders need to model good behavior in terms of not being super-defensive," he said.

When a manager's pushback or feedback leads to a better decision, company leaders should publicly recognize that manager's contribution, he said.

"[That way], other people see that pushback and feedback is actually constructive toward end goals," Benitez said.

For example, HR can encourage managers to get clarification when priorities are not clear, Benitez said. In many cases, managers don't speak up about this challenge because they fear negative repercussions.

Managers will improve their work experience, and that of their direct reports, if they raise concerns about prioritization.

4. Educate on employee resources

Managers likely want to help their direct reports as much as possible, but they may be unaware of how much help they can realistically offer. HR leaders must make sure managers have an accurate idea of the resources they can draw on for their direct reports in areas like professional development.

"Oftentimes there's a sense that the workplace needs to be all-encompassing [in] meeting the needs of these different workers," Benitez said. "Frontline managers are struggling with a lot of pressure from their teams and they're not getting as much guidance about what, from the company perspective, they can offer to their employees."

For example, an employee may ask their manager if they can enroll in a learning and development course outside the organization, but the company may lack the funds for enrollment. The manager may say yes, then discover the organization can't pay for the course.

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