Early in her career, Julie Blankenship, SHRM-SCP, worked with a line manager who bypassed HR to recruit and hire a skilled tradesperson. Along the way, the manager told the top candidate that the company's health insurance was comprehensive. However, Blankenship recalled, "he left out the fine print." The company's insurance didn't cover pre-existing conditions.
"I didn't know anything about this conversation until after I was on the receiving end of the [employee's] spouse's rage," said Blankenship, who's now HR director for Perio, the Dublin, Ohio-based, parent of Barbasol and PureSilk shaving products. The company's insurance program offered no wiggle room, so "there wasn't anything to be offered to recover from this miscommunication." Because the employee accepted the position largely for the health insurance, he quit soon afterwards.
Similar stories abound throughout the HR community. Especially in smaller organizations, where processes may be loose and HR is either overworked or not particularly popular, hiring managers take matters into their own hands when they have a role to fill.
They may do so for expediency's sake, or because the business is on a growth track that pressures them to favor speed over process. Perhaps the most common scenario occurs when managers don't see HR as a credible partner and only trust the department to handle the basic administrative tasks involved with hiring, said Tom Veitz, SHRM-SCP, vice president of human resources for 500-employee Nutrisystem in Fort Washington, Pa. Whatever the reason, "the outcome is rarely ideal," he said.
Sometimes hiring managers connect with someone they've previously worked with and decide it's a perfect match with an open job, Blankenship added. In her experience, "they were either so excited about the opportunity to work together that they simply forgot to include HR, or they intentionally bypassed me because they 'knew' I would be the stereotypical 'HR enforcer,' " she said.
Unfortunately, industry experts and practitioners say, a number of HR departments have less-than-stellar reputations within their own organizations. "If your department has become what we might call 'the Department of No,' then people won't want to go to you even for things that are relatively benign, like recruiting new people," said Adam Calli, principal consultant for Arc Human Capital in Northern Virginia. "If your department has this reputation, you've got to work to overcome it."
Accomplishing that requires both developing trust and demonstrating how much effort and headache managers can avoid by working with HR. Managers juggle so many responsibilities, Blankenship observed, and vacancies increase their workload while multiplying the pressure they're under—even as they spend additional time filling the open position. HR can help lighten that burden by sourcing and pre-screening candidates so managers can focus on the applicants who are genuinely interested in the job and represent the best possible match.
Another way HR professionals can help is by outlining the role and key competencies needed for success, Veitz said. They also can save managers significant time by crafting and communicating a compelling recruiting brand and compensation and benefits package, applying market and employment trends to the search and, once a candidate is selected, organizing the offer and creating an onboarding plan.
Of course, all this can only happen when HR takes the time to develop solid working relationships with line managers. Practitioners can lay the groundwork for that kind of partnership by being proactive in their outreach.
To start, sit down with hiring managers before they begin a search, advised Yessica Cancel, SHRM-SCP, chief operating officer of Pace Center for Girls, a 500-employee nonprofit in Jacksonville, Fla. Ask how the manager wants to be involved and offer to take appropriate chores off their hands. That kind of approach, Cancel said, "helps to build that partnership."
Often, managers don't really know how they want the process to work. In those cases, simply talking through the steps can help them formulate their approach, Cancel said. For example, some might prefer to review all of the applicants, pick their top 10, then have HR conduct the phone screens and identify three finalists. In other cases, HR might review the initial set of resumes, present the manager with the 10 most promising prospects, then conduct phone screens for whatever finalists the manager selects.
Cancel believes it's important to keep the hiring process flexible. "It's almost like an a la carte menu that gives managers the ability to become engaged where they want to be engaged," she said. "But at the same time, they see where they can hand off tasks without backing away from the process."
Steering Clear of Risk
Another dynamic at play is risk. When HR's not involved, managers may unwittingly put both themselves and the company in legal peril.
"The manager may ask questions that get them in legal hot water or find themselves involved in compensation discussions with no facts as it relates to current market and internal equity," Veitz said. Also, as more employees work across functions, the consequences of hiring in a vacuum become greater. Without HR's guidance, managers may not see "how the role and talent fits into the bigger picture of the organization," he explained.
Working with HR also helps managers keep the hiring process focused on business needs and not emotions. "Taking the time to get a second opinion and/or compare their 'ideal match' to other candidates can help ensure an unbiased evaluation of the candidate," Blankenship said.
On top of that, HR's involvement should result in a fair and inclusive selection process. Without HR, "hiring could become limited to the manager's network, restricting their ability to view a wide array of diverse candidates that can add tremendous value to the organization," Veitz said.
"Managers get an applicant who looks really good on paper, so they go forward but don't check out anything," said Andrea Thomas, director of human resources at Casablanca Design Group, a restaurant design firm in Marietta, Ga., with 98 employees. "They don't find out enough to really know if they're the right employee. They only take the application at face value."
If HR sees itself being bypassed by managers, Blankenship suggested finding out why. "Make sure to get honest feedback and identify the true root cause of the problem, if there is one," she said. The reasons could range from managers not knowing they could or should work with HR to, in the worst case, intentionally excluding HR because it has lost their trust. "Once we know the reason, we can assess our options and collaborate with management to find ways for HR to add value, not bureaucracy, to the talent acquisition process," she said.
"Learn the business and the pain points of your hiring managers," Veitz added. That will help establish credibility and respect. "Hiring managers need to see that you're helping them solve a business problem versus simply completing a transaction. This fosters trust and often leads to managers actively seeking your advice." The key, he believes, is to demonstrate that HR practitioners are "in it with them and are committed to finding the best team member to drive their success, too."
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