"My managers are out of control"

How can I stop them damaging the business?

I started a job as standalone HR manager for an SME in the third sector at the beginning of this year. I’ve now carried out a training needs analysis on the senior leadership team. It is clear that they were all appointed because ‘there was no one else’. None of them, including the CEO, possess any management or leadership qualities, let alone qualifications. This is clear in the absolute mutiny among their teams, who run amok. 

Our turnover rates are shocking but no one bats an eyelid, and the sheer number of disciplinaries and grievances is amazing. I put in place training, which most managers, including the CEO, refused to turn up to. The ones who did go were openly hostile to the trainer and argued every point. I also introduced a mentor to the firm but no one took up the offer. What more can I do?

Some organisations need saving from themselves – and yours certainly falls into that category. I can understand your pain, and everything you’ve done so far is sensible and logical. But if even the CEO won’t participate constructively in training, there’s little HR can achieve on its own, particularly as it’s clear the managers have not been appointed for their managerial abilities.

My fear, which I’m sure you share, is that your business is not just dysfunctional – it’s a scandal in waiting. We have seen some high-profile failures in the sector, and you can bet that if managers won’t manage properly, there are failings in areas such as governance and safeguarding, which could very well be affecting the frontline users of your services.

You’ll have to go back to the CEO and articulate your fears in a language they will understand: the financial cost of grievances, employee turnover and low engagement, as well as the potential risks if the organisation does fully implode. If that message doesn’t land, I’d argue that HR has a duty to go to the trustees.

The good news is that I’ve been involved in a similar case and, by presenting the trustees with an action plan, we were able to effect real change over time, removing many senior managers, retraining others and turning things around through painstaking work.

We framed it as a positive opportunity, and created actionable points the trustees were able to raise at every board meeting to hold leaders to account. And while it might not feel like it now, rising to this challenge is a great opportunity for an HR professional to develop their capabilities – and, perhaps, their crisis management skills.