I’m head of HR for a chain of commercial property agents, but having been here a year, it’s clear my job is extremely limited. I can run talent programmes or introduce performance management for head office staff, but if I intervene in any serious way with something happening in a branch I’m told that’s a role for branch managers or regional managers. That includes a couple of serious incidents of sexual harassment, as well as everyday issues around bad recruitment practice. There are only three of us in HR but we’re more than happy to demonstrate what we can do if only we were given a chance.
It’s pretty obvious that your business is playing with fire by leaving the management of potentially serious situations to individual leaders, no matter how experienced they are. In some industries, organisations seem to believe they don’t need to proactively manage people but can just write a cheque or freeze someone out if things go wrong. As you’ll know only too well, they always come unstuck in the end and it can be expensive.
Somewhere across the business there will be a branch leader who would welcome some HR expertise – you just need to keep your ear to the ground to find them, because they are your way in. Find out what their pressing people-related problems are and use your HR experience to suggest some solutions.
Ideally, that won’t be anything as drastic as an upcoming sexual harassment claim. It could just be that they can’t retain staff or face succession planning issues. If you can demonstrate your ability to solve something like that, you can force senior leaders to sit up and take notice and will be able to ‘sell’ the benefits of HR intervention to other parts of the business. And before long, you’ll find you’re their first port of call.