Can you remember the last time that you, the engineering manager, paid a visit to HR?
Er… Can someone point me where HR is?
Risking being repetitive by saying (and I’ll keep on it whenever I can) that development is a social activity above everything else, I’ll add that even more social is activities of one manager. Well then, that said, what is the development/engineering management other than the management of a social entity or group, better known as a team?
Because of this and others things alike that I always suggest that every engineering manager should maintain a close and healthy relationship with the HR team.
There goes some story…
I once explained to my team of ex-interns-just-hired, the conditions for dismissal for just cause (in Brazil this generates some sort of exit bonus for the employee), which was CLT (Brazilian work Regulation Law), what was an autonomous professional and so on. The team was formed only by men, then one begins to ask about what happens if the woman becomes pregnant during the experience period (a 3 months period to which dismissal rules do not apply). I had no idea.
When contacting my partner in HR, I suspect that laughing she asks me,
- Ricardo, what a strange question. Is any of your guys ‘pregnant’ ?
Unfortunately, it’s not common for the development/engineering managers to worry about bureaucratic aspects of their employees’ careers. That is a very serious mistake. Employees, especially on the beginning of their careers, were 5 or more years concerned about their technical training during university. They probably wanted to get the most out of college and at best to understand the laws governing internship programs – not employment laws or contracts.
Shouting at people
I do not remember shouting at anyone on my team. I’ve had a lot of heated discussions and I had raised my voice a few times, but I’ve never appealed to shouting or screaming. What is true for me unfortunately is not for many managers. Everyone has listen to some stories…
I know several cases of founders-turned-to-directors on technology companies, who treat the team as crap, employing a technocratic reasoning to justify such behavior: it was one of his creations that gave rise to the company, so, he is better than the others. It is awkward – and sometimes pathetic – how some people think that some lines of code and some schematics imbue the right to humiliate others.
A bad manager will result in all kinds of pathologies within a corporation: from Ironman Syndrome (I describe this one on my book – unfortunately only in Portuguese), Achilles Effect, Psychological Reactance and etc …
I’m sure of one thing: a quick visit and a little conversation with those guys who deal with people within the company would be enough for one manager to realize his/her mistakes. I happened to do that and when I did my first journey to HR to request the opening of a new job, I took a hard time from the director:
Ricardo, you do have some talent. Sadly, you throw that to trash because you think being a good engineer is enough. I can kick a tree and get 30 good technical skilled engineers to fall down, but I’ll not find ONE that could be a good manager.
I took a punch that changed my mind.
How can HR help?
The bare minimum, making a standard scan on a possible hire. For those who work in development, this would be analogous to the good, old, useful and extremely important sanity test. This kind of getting all information a candidate is willing to provide and that we need to better hire someone. Besides, having to viewpoints of the same person always creates a healthy confrontation of these views.
I had had on my team several technically exceptional guys who, according to HR, had poor professional and behavioral backgrounds and were giving more trouble than solutions.
Besides this, a conversation with a HR manager can help:
- With the hiring of professionals;
- With ethical issues and moral harassment, sexual harassment, etc;
- support in the evaluation of non-technical performance;
- suitability to use and need for PPE, safety and etc;
- mediation in situations of conflict (between employees, between employee and manager, between managers);
- support after downsizings
- obtaining feedback for the manager himself
Add to all of that the knowledge of all legal bureaucracy on work regulations. Actually, most managers when asking something tho HR do only on this subject.
Another important point that HR can help instruct a manager: when everything becomes bullying. I know cases of managers who have ended up hostage to their teams because they do not know the limit of their authority and could not be assertive. I’ve seen:
- an Engineering Manager found impossible to promote a good performance employee to avoid generating discomfort and a sensation of inferiority in lower performing peers or even that someone not promoted might claim to be a victim of prejudice.
- a low-performing employee that had been fired without knowing why. Months later, I discovered that his manager was afraid to inform the employee the real reasons, as in the past the same employee was offended by doing a bad job and being badly rated.
None of these behaviors is positive for the manager, for the company, for the employees. HR can help dealing with that.
So, are you going pass by the HR?
A good conversation with HR can get the manager out of pain, being squeezed between directors and employees, making mistakes, losing the joys of the job or creating under his/her responsibility a fear-driven environment of inefficiency without the results that every manager needs.
Managing people is a task as noble as it is difficult, but it definitely is not a battle to fight alone. One manager, by seeking support with HR professionals, at the very least, will send the message to the company that this manager have no restrains for good of the company.
For real, not just speech.