How do I: Manage Up? Don’t! Do this, instead.

Many of my blogs are triggered by someone asking a question.  That’s the case with this one, as well.  In this situation, a friend is adjusting to some leadership changes in her organization.  My short answer to the question “How Do I Manage Up”? is DON’T.  That is the wrong question.  The better question is How Do I build and/or strengthen my relationship with my manager?  We can boil the answer down to a handful of key principles.

Have a conversation

Maybe you have a new manager or a new job or maybe nothing has changed and you work in a business as usual world.  It is never the wrong time to engage your manager in a conversation about how you two can work (more) effectively together.  But before you begin that conversation, conduct a mini self-assessment by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How do I think the relationship is going?
  • What is working well for me? 
  • Am I delivering at or above my manager’s expectations?  If not, why not and what should I change?
  • Do I need help with some part of my job? 
  • If there was one thing the two of you could change about your relationship, what would it be?

The purpose of this exercise is for you to enter the conversation with a clear understanding of how you feel about things and what, if anything, you want as a result of the conversation. Once you are ready, it’s time to schedule that discussion.  Some starter topics you can use include:

  • How do you (Ms./Mr. Manager) think things are going?
  • Are you comfortable with how we work together? 
  • Do you think we communicate effectively?  If not, what should we change?  Is it a mutual adjustment or do I need to take the lead for any changes?  Can you share one or more examples so I really get it?
  • Is there anything about the way we work together that you want to change? 
  • If there was one thing you could change about our relationship, what would It be?


This is not a post about Active Listening.  That is a subject unto itself.  But that is what you need to do to make the conversation with your manager worthwhile and productive for both of you.  So here are a few tips (without getting into the details of active listening):

  • Hear your manager out before responding – especially if she is offering some constructive feedback as part of the discussion.  The most common active listening mistake people make is to start preparing a response as soon as the other person says anything less than flattering.  It is normal but you have to suspend that behavior if you want to maximize the benefits of the conversation.  Otherwise, you run the risk of not really hearing everything she has to say.
  • Ask clarifying questions if needed.
  • Ask for examples to illustrate the point(s) she is making.
  • Play back what you have heard in your own words.  This allows you to confirm you have understood correctly.  It can also be a “feel good” moment for your manager as it confirms she has communicated effectively with you.
  • Don’t feel that you must respond in the current conversation.  If you have learned something surprising, it is absolutely OK to say something like “Wow.  I didn’t know that or I didn’t see it that way.  I’d like the chance to reflect on your point and discuss it further in a follow up meeting”.
  • If the conversation leads to a realization that you need some help, ask for it. 

Agree on Next Steps

Now that you’re in a dialogue, agree with your manager about what next steps (if any) are appropriate.  What are your individual and shared expectations going forward?  Who will do what? And by when do you expect to check in with each other again on the action points?  I like to send my manager a simple email following this kind of conversation.  The purpose is to assure there is a clear, shared understanding of the discussion and what the next steps are.

Follow Through

If you have agreed on some changes, make sure you do your part of to follow through. The conversation is a starting point in building that relationship.  By delivering on the commitments you made in the conversation you demonstrate you care and are investing in strengthening the relationship.  Following through also builds trust.  I don’t know anyone who says they don’t need more trust in their work relationships.

A Few Additional Tips

No surprises.  You have likely heard this before but it bears repeating.   Don’t let your manager be surprised – by either good news or by a screw-up.  We all make mistakes.  If you’re involved in a mistake, be the one who lets your manager know it.  It is far better for you to report the situation than it is for your manager to be surprised by someone else telling her.

Own the mistake.  It is one thing to report a problem before she hears it elsewhere.  It is another thing to own the problem.  If you are a manager, yourself, maybe someone on your team made the mistake.  Accept responsibility as the manager of that person. 

Have a solution. 

Ideally, when you inform your manager that there is a problem, you can also present a solution.  If you can’t or don’t know how to correct the issue, ask for thought partnership.  But don’t let your current inability to fix it on your own delay letting your manager know what is happening.

Final Thoughts

Building and maintaining a productive relationship with your manager is not a one-off event.  Leverage your investment in the conversation to keep the lines of constructive communication open.  And if you are a manager of people, encourage your folks to do the same with you.  We’re all in this together and it’s a lot more fun to succeed together than it is to be frustrated or unhappy together.

Somers HR Solutions  is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners and business leaders to enhance their organizational impact.  He is passionate about delivering “answers for the real world.”

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as both an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  Ken completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multi-generational perspective to solving client challenges.

If you found this blog useful and/or if you can use some help in addressing a people leadership challenge, contact me at:

+1 508-507-1207 or ken@somershrsolutions.com

Vaccinations Are Here! – What You Need to Know to Drive Your Business

Vaccinations Are Here!  – What You Need to Know to Drive Your Business

Welcome to our second post in the series on Common Sense People Management for Small to Medium Businesses

Return to “normal” planning

As we write, the pace of vaccinations is accelerating and some optimism is returning but new infections and hospitalizations are starting to creep upwards making “return-to-normal” planning more complex.  The key message is that despite near universal COVID-weariness, this is not over yet.  So, let’s address some key management planning principles.

  • Keep your options open as long as possible.  The states are in the process of lifting restrictions, but we urge caution.  In this changeable environment, by not committing to a specific set of actions or a particular operating environment, business owners can avoid creating unrealistic expectations and/or disappointing employees and customers.  You will never have perfect information you need but wait until you have enough to confidently implement your plans.  Think through various “what if” scenarios and pull the trigger on the best fit solution when the time comes.
  • Are your front-line managers prepared to lead?  If your business depends on front line managers for day-to-day supervision, evaluate if they have the tools, knowledge, and mindset to lead in the new environment?  If not, what are they missing and how do you “skill” them up to be prepared? For example, several of the major global consultancies are urging their clients to adopt more flexible people management practices.
  • What Google (or Amazon or Facebook, etc.) does may not be the right answer for your business.  Many of the technology giants have declared permanent partial or full remote work.  That may or may not be right for your business.  And remember, the tech giants generally have a vested financial interest in promoting more and more use of technology solutions.
  • Managing a Hybrid workplace is more complex than seems on the surface.  While we will devote an entire post to “Hybridity”, a few comments are appropriate here.  A hybrid workplace can seem attractive on many levels.  It can allow a business to reduce its real estate costs and lower its carbon footprint.  But having your team in the same place at the same time (co-location) delivers smoother coordination, informal networking, and greater face to face collaboration.  Power and influence will be affected by one’s skill and comfort level in navigating a hybrid work environment.
  • Every business has a culture – what do you want yours to feel like as you go forward?  Even if you have never thought about, your business has a culture.  The smaller the business, the more likely the culture is a direct reflection of the owner(s).  What values or operating principles do you want your people to embrace in the new normal?

We close this post with a few critical Q’s & A’s about vaccinations:

Q:  Can employers require employees to get vaccinated?

A:   Generally, yes.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance from December 2020, employers may enforce this requirement since a vaccination is not considered a medical examination.  However, the EEOC went on to say that employers must include a procedure for employees to request an exemption or a reasonable accommodation.

Q:  What should an employer consider when deciding about mandated vaccinations?

A:  First, employers need to ensure they are following federal, state, and local guidelines on vaccinations.  This will help identify what you can do and what you cannot.  Beyond this, the nature of the business is a determining factor.  For example, childcare operations may determine that vaccinations are mandatory due to the increased risk of exposure.   On the other hand, if you are a distributor or a transportation company with no direct customer contact, vaccinations are likely to be a lower priority.

Q:  Do I need a vaccination policy?

A:  We believe the answer is yes.  Your policy should clearly explain whether you require or encourage vaccinations.  If you elect to mandate vaccinations, you should state the reasons why.  Depending on the nature of your business, protecting fellow employees and customers is a reasonable example.

Q:  What is a reasonable accommodation if one is needed?

A:  A reasonable accommodation may include some or all of the following actions:  remote work, an isolated working arrangement, continued masking coupled with social distancing in the work environment.   However, remember, an employer may not be required to provide an accommodation if doing so creates an undue hardship.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) an undue hardship will cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.   This is a tricky area and employers need to consider each accommodation request on the unique facts and circumstances as well as the particular job and workplace.

Disclaimer:  We are not lawyers and the information provided in this and future posts should not be considered legal advice.  We urge you to consult with your attorney before taking any actions that could expose you and your business to legal actions – however, well-intended those actions may be.

Ken brings more than 40 years of Human Resources and line executive and practitioner experience to his client relationships.  In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked across multiple industries in 6 countries (5 in Asia and 1 in Europe).   As a consequence, there are very few situations that he has not previously navigated with his clients. 

Ken is widely acknowledged for quickly establishing trust and critical thought partnership.  This essential trust is attained through his naturally engaging style, a focus on practical solutions, and the use of some well-timed humor.  After all, at times, coaching conversations can be challenging.  As an exceptionally good listener, Ken demonstrates vulnerability with his clients and expects the same, in return. While he tries to make the coaching process a pleasant experience, there is business to be done and Ken partners with clients to keep a laser focus on progressing through the cycle.   

His coaching assignments typically involve the use of a proprietary 360 tool that delivers a comprehensive and holistic view of how the client enables or inhibits organizational results.  An underlying premise is that the specific context in which the client operates matters.  This tool and the subsequent discussion about the results yields a specific and attainable set of objectives that Ken and the client partner to achieve.

While Ken has worked with many different kinds of functional leaders, he has a particular passion for helping HR practitioners who are committed to increasing their organizational influence and impact. As a consummate networker, he can draw on resources and solutions literally from around the planet.

Ken earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives with his spouse and their 11-year-old puppy in Bloomfield, CT.  Time zones and travel (when COVID is better controlled) are routine challenges that are easily overcome.

Ken has helped executives and their teams by:

  • Coaching leaders and managers on soft skills e.g., empathy, active listening, emotional intelligence to improve their effectiveness and focus on personal growth.
  • Working with managers to develop stronger prioritization and delegation skills and habits to reduce stress and attain greater work/life balance.
  • Coaching executives on communication style and presentation skills to build their reputations and enhance career growth.
  • Working with women leaders to enhance their executive presence and overcome the challenges associated with the Imposter Syndrome. Text Box: Contact Ken at ken@somershrsolutions.com or by phone at +1 508-507-1207 to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.  Visit his website at https://somershrsolutions.com
  • Developing leadership team cohesiveness to drive business growth and agility.
  • Leading strategic offsites to align & motivate executives and to develop plans to respond to challenging business realities.

Comp360, LLC is a trusted advisor and partner to dynamic organizations in need of pragmatic and problem-solving guidance on Total Rewards programming that will enable attraction and retention of a talented and stable workforce.

Marc Kroll, Comp360’s owner, is a compensation consultant seasoned in the design, formulation and implementation of total reward strategies and variable pay plans across multiple industries, including service and manufacturing environments.

He has engaged and collaborated with executive management and employee teams to drive consensus on a variety of pay, benefits and performance challenges. These have ranged from compensation strategy formulation to full-scale implementation of business-based rewards programs, inclusive of sales, management and executive pay and benefits.

His career spans four decades during which he has led compensation groups both for corporate entities as well as privately held organizations. This experience and expertise enable him to assist a variety of clients with a wide range of operational challenges and work cultures.

Experienced in both profit and non-profit sectors, Mr. Kroll brings a broad perspective and in-depth knowledge to clients as they determine their pay and benefits vision and tactics.

Mr. Kroll has also served on the faculty of the Fairfield University (Dolan School of Management) as an adjunct instructor teaching performance management and compensation. He is also Assistant Chair of the Pension Committee for the Town of Woodbury, Connecticut.

Although Comp360’s focus is Total Reward Program design and delivery, we also offer:

  • Benefits Benchmarking
  • Performance Management Integration with Compensation
  • Focus Group Design and Execution
  • Communication Strategy and Training for program rollout

Contact Marc at mgkroll@earthlink.net or by phone at 203-228-0239 to learn more about how Comp360 can help your organization increase return on your Total Rewards investment.

Analytics and Human Resources Leadership of the Future

I recently had the fun opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about HR Analytics and how it is reshaping the future of the Human Resources profession. I was the designated practitioner on the panel and my role was to keep us grounded in the realities of leading HR functions on a day-to-day basis.   This panel was part of the recent and exceptional HR Hacking Global Conference.  You’ll forgive me when I give this shout out to Enrique Rubio for the fabulous job he did in organizing and implementing this extraordinary program which drew over 20,000 HR practitioners across the planet.

One of the panel attendees posed an interesting question.  He asked if the HR leaders of the future need to come to the job with an Analytics arrow in their quiver of talents.  Although the question was not asked as if an Analytics background is a pre-requisite for future HR leadership, that was the subtle suggestion.

We, on the panel, had a brief but useful chat about the pros and cons.  If you’ve read any of my prior posts, you probably already know that I asserted that an Analytics background will be helpful but not a requirement.  My arguments were simple and to the point.

  • The role of the CHRO (or equivalent) is far too broad to be defined solely by an Analytics background.
  • Successful CHRO’s assemble direct report teams that bring with themselves (or have within their structures) the range of HR capabilities needed to steer a contemporary HR function. If they don’t, they have a bigger problem than a lack of personal Analytics capabilities.
  • While high impact CHRO’s of the future will absolutely need to draw upon Analytics expertise, it’s more important that they:
  • Are reasonably numerate – you can define reasonable any way you wish but, in this context, I think it means they can understand the data and the implications of the data
  • Are plugged into the business and understand both current and anticipated business challenges
  • Because of the preceding two points, know the right questions to ask and then actually listen to the answers
  • Can interpret the knowledge and insights of their Analytics team to paint a story that will resonate with other business leaders

We are blessed to have a number of great academic thinkers who are helping to shape the future of the Human Resources profession with their ground-breaking work.  Since I was the designated “reality guy” on our panel, I asserted and remain convinced this is all great stuff.  I loved having a Business Intelligence team in my last corporate gig – and I learned a lot, thanks to my team.  However, in order to lead the human capital dimension of a business in 2021 and for the foreseeable future, I believe the most senior members of any HR leadership team need to be strategic influencers.   The ability to understand and deploy Analytics is but one tool they will use to achieve that status.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts.  I especially welcome thoughtful disagreement.


This post in our series about HR Business Partners introduces the need for Business Partners to collaborate in support of delivering optimal client solutions. It has been co-authored with my friend Lukasz Mytnik.  Luk has spent most of his recent career in Compensation and Analytics Center of Excellence (COE) roles.  He is now an HR Business Partner in the Wroclaw, Poland operation of a global insurance company’s Shared Service Center. It is my pleasure to introduce him to our readership.

One of the challenges many HR Business Partners (HRBP’s) find in their work is reconciling the challenges and tensions between HRBP’s and their colleagues in the Compensation COE. Why is it sometimes challenging and why does it pay to build an alliance between roles?  This entry in our continuing series on what it means to be a strategic HRBP will explore how the Compensation COE and the HRBP can better collaborate with each other to enhance their shared impact on their clients.

2020 has been an awful year for many companies and individuals from financial and social connectivity standpoint.  We expect that the 2021 merit cycle will be extraordinarily challenging for many organizations and the HR professionals who have to administer compensation programs.  Thus, the objective of this post is to provide some timely ideas for HRBP’s to consider as they work with their compensation colleagues to manage through a tough environment.

We think it is important to discuss finding the balance between agile and bureaucratic approaches to compensation decisions.  This balance point will also need to take tactics and strategies into consideration. We think this is an especially timely topic as many HR teams around the world head into a challenging 2021 compensation cycle. 

It’s a Balancing Act

Compensation Strategy is often conservative because of budget constraints and other external influences. That is why companies commonly follow the market median as the key benchmark reference point to calculate a “fair base salary” for employees.  But the real world can present situations where tactical considerations push against the guardrails of strategic compensation management.  For example, your direct client – a line manager – might need to attract expensive talent from the competition.  Alternatively, the same manager may find s/he needs to make a counteroffer for a key employee who the competition wants to hire away from you.

As a general rule, it is in the best interest of all business actors to follow the strategic direction of compensation policy. This means respecting the defensive aspects of compensation management like managing within financial limitations.  However, each of the tactical situations mentioned above might require  aggressive compensation decisions. Those decisions can be viewed as exceptions from strategic tenets of compensation policy like following market median or promoting employees only at prescribed periods. On the other hand, if these kinds of situations are increasingly common, it may indicate it is time to challenge strategies that were developed in the past and under different market circumstances.  Regardless, bureaucratic and agile as well as strategic and tactical approaches need to serve delivering financial results

In most HR organizations that have adopted the HRBP/COE model, the HRBP is viewed as the key point of contact for the management team s/he supports. S/he is responsible for understanding the business’ needs and marshalling the resources of the entire HR organization to deliver solutions to address those business needs.

During “normal” or stable times, the Compensation team will assess labor market practices, make recommendations for funding remuneration programs, and work with HRBP’s to implement those programs – once the business has approved budgets and related matters.  In preparing annual merit programs, for example, the Compensation COE will typically prepare guidance that aligns merit pay changes with performance indicators.  This guidance will usually look something like this:

Current Percentile of Range PenetrationRating 1Rating 2Rating 3Rating 4

Where a rating of 1 is the top rating and 4 is the lowest rating.

The most common definition of a percentile is a number where a certain percentage of scores fall below that number (e.g. 50th centile called “median” means that 50% of population gets less and 50% more than this amount)


Easy, right? Just match the percentile to the rating and you have your recommended merit increase percent.   Not so fast.  What do you do if your client has a top performer (rated 1) and s/he is already beyond the 75th percentile of the salary range for their position?   And, to make it a bit more challenging, your client wants to deliver the kind of merit increase that would normally go to someone with the same rating but much lower range penetration. For the sake of this post, we assume the manager’s request is grounded in some solid business reasons.

This could be one of those important pivot points for an HRBP’s relationship with the client and the Compensation COE.  We all know that in many HRBP/COE HR models, the HR Business Partner feels continuous pressure to keep the client “happy”.  In those cases, it would not be unusual for the HRBP to challenge the Compensation COE to explain why the manager cannot go outside guidance.  After all, it’s only “guidance”, right?  Moreover, it’s the manager’s compensation budget, isn’t it?

In a situation like this, the HRBP is tactically shifting ownership of the problem to the Comp COE.  Consciously or not, s/he is seeking to escape the responsibility of leading the client to a satisfactory business decision.  In the long run, this approach will deliver some strategically negative outcomes for the HR business partner.  Among them:

  • It is a missed opportunity to establish problem-solving thought partnership with the manager
  • Just doing what the manager wants does nothing to build mutual respect with the manager.  In fact, we argue it weakens partnership with the line.  If all the manager has to do to get his/her way is demand HR do as requested, then why do we need the HRBP?
  • Pushing the problem to the Comp COE doesn’t build collaboration.  Rather, the Comp COE will likely feel like a victim, hardly the foundation for future partnership.  How receptive will the Comp COE be the next time the HRBP needs help with something?


As an alternative, we’d suggest the business partner do the following:

  • Deeply understand the reasons why the manager wants to take this action
    • Is there a retention risk?
    • Has this employee been a consistently high performer over an extended timeframe? 
    • What are the future prospects for this employee?  Where does s/he sit on the 9-block and why?
    • What is the senior management point of view – on this employee and the requested exception?
  • Once the circumstances are fully understood, the HRBP should explain next steps to the manager without making any promises of a particular outcome.  This is in the spirit of managing the client’s expectations. (We will address managing expectations in a future blog post).  Those next steps should include:
    • Prepare thoughtful and complete briefing notes to share with the Comp team and his/her manager; remember, no surprises.
    • Meet with the Comp team to discuss the situation and explore alternative solutions
    • Come back to the manager within “x” days with a proposed outcome
    • In very business impactful situations (e.g. counteroffer to top talent) try to anticipate the next steps if the proposed solution fails. Demonstrate creative adaptability.
  • Engagement with the Comp team can explore, as examples:
    • A one-off lump sum award or a customized, valuable L&D program for employee instead of a merit adjustment
    • Some compromise on the percentage increase being sought
    • Are there employees – either in the manager’s direct span or in the higher-level manager’s broader organization – who are scheduled for larger increases than the guidance would normally suggest?  Can funds be rebalanced to achieve the manager’s request?
    • Many organizations keep a “holdback” pool of merit money for unusual situations.  Can those funds be tapped into?
    • A combination of these approaches and/or others


Once a solution is agreed between the HRBP and the COE, it’s time to meet with the manager to explain your recommendations.  We believe the HRBP and the COE partner attend this meeting together.  Some of the key reasons for this are:

  • HR should present a unified recommendation.  We don’t want the manager shopping elsewhere in HR for a “better” answer.
  • By sharing the relationship with the manager, it creates a great opportunity to build collaboration with the COE.
  • If the solution represents a significant deviation from past practice, it’s important to build a wall around the circumstances to prevent the unusual action from becoming a precedent.
  • Together, the HRBP and the COE can help the manager prepare for a discussion with the employee about the decision.  You want to create a situation where the manager “owns” the final decision and doesn’t say “HR wouldn’t let me do it”.

In all likelihood, you will need to present a solution that will be suboptimal from the manager’s point of view.  This is probably one of those years where very few people will be genuinely happy with their merit adjustments.  As the business partner, you need to be able to work with the manager so that s/he can logically and unemotionally explain the facts, the logic behind the facts, and the outcome reached.   That discussion can and should also explore other, non-compensation actions the manager can take to recognize the exceptional employee’s contributions.  A few quick examples might include attendance at a professional conference, one or more training programs, flexibility in some other area within the manager’s discretion such as extra time off or assignment to a high visibility project.


The 2021 merit compensation cycle is likely to be one of the most challenging in recent years.  HR Business Partners need partnership and collaboration with their compensation colleagues for both teams to optimize success.  Business partners cannot credibly “blame” the COE’s for tough decisions and the COE cannot hide in the background.   In the eyes of most businesses and senior leadership, they will succeed or fail together.  We hope these ideas will help you prepare for success.


We have a lot more to say about the relationship between the Compensation COE and HRBP’s. The next post in this series will explore some of the different approaches that companies use to align pay programs and pay decisions with company objectives. A Polish language version of this post will be available soon. We’ll post that link when the translation is ready.

About the Authors

Somers HR Solutions, LLC is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners to enhance their organizational impact.  He is dedicated to delivering answers for the real world.

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  He recently completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multigenerational perspective to solving client challenges.

Contact Ken at ken@somershrsolutions.com to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.

Łukasz Mytnik – enthusiast of human relations, behavioral economy and analytical business mindset, in his professional life combining accountabilities of HR Business Partner and Compensation & Benefit Manager.

DISCLAIMER: Every statement of Łukasz Mytnik written in this article or in the comments to this article express his personal opinion and they should not be associated with his employer AXA XL or with any other official duty that plays a role in his regular employment. Łukasz wrote this article in his private time (not during working time in AXA XL).

Who’s on First – Talent Acquisition or HR Business Partners?

98 First Base Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock


One of the more common friction points in many Human Resource organizations is the tension between front-line HR Business Partner (HRBP) and the Talent Acquisition (TA) organization.  In this blog post, we will present some ideas for how these teams can work together more effectively.  Our approach is based on experience and what we perceive as common sense. 

Who’s Doing What?

In all likelihood, the business these teams serve has a mission statement and/or a strategy.  The broader HR organization probably has a mission statement aligned at a high level with the business.  But what about Business Partners and Talent Acquisition teams?  If explicit mission statements and long-term strategies and goals are missing or irrelevant, these HR functions are more likely to be in a continuously reactive state.  We therefore argue that every individual HR function needs a mission and talent strategies that are aligned with the rest of HR and the broader business.   Here are two generic examples: one for HRBP’s and one for TA:

HR Business Partners serve as the business unit’s central point of contact for the delivery of all Human Resource services and programs.  In fulfilling this mission, HR Business Partners are expected to blend their HR subject matter expertise with business acumen in order to achieve the organization’s human capital objectives.

Talent Acquisition teams facilitate the processes through which the organization secures the talent it needs in order to fulfill its mission.  In so doing, TA teams must understand their business and its operating environment and translate those insights into strategies that identify, attract, and select the human capabilities the organization needs to achieve its objectives.

Simple, right?  Not so fast.

RACI Charts – What & Why?

Although these examples seem pretty clear about who does what, it’s not so simple.   Absent clearer accountabilities, individual activities will either be duplicated (sometimes with different results) by two people or slip through the cracks while each person assumes the other will execute that task.  As a result, finger pointing will flourish.  That’s where a RACI comes in.  A RACI chart is a simple matrix used to assign roles and responsibilities for tasks, decisions, or processes. By mapping out which roles are involved in each critical task and at which level, you can eliminate confusion and answer the age-old question, who’s doing what? 

A typical RACI for a talent acquisition process will look something like this

TaskHRBPRecruiterHiring ManagerHelpdeskSite AdminAcctg/FinanceDue DateStatus
Define requirementsCAR     
Post jobCRA I   
Identify appropriate CV’sARC     
Set up interviewsARC, I I   
Conduct interviewsARA     
Agree on selected candidateA C, IR I   
Sign offer letterAIIIRC, I  
Prepare workstationIIAC, IRI  
Initial feedbackRCA I   

Every organization that uses a RACI will have their own variation of the chart.  What’s important to note is the clear definition of who is responsible for doing what.  RACI’s are best created in a highly collaborative way between the responsible parties.  That way, each has “bought into” the process by participating and agreeing on the expected outcomes. 

How to Make the RACI Work

Now that you have a RACI, you need to actually make it work.  No RACI can possibly anticipate every variation of things that can go wrong (or right) in a given process.  That’s where Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) enter the picture.  SLA’s are merely agreements between parties that specify what will be done by when and frequently include target dates (as reflected above) or turnaround times for resume reviews, etc.

Just as the RACI, itself, SLA’s are the product of a negotiation between the responsible groups.   They serve as a supplement to the RACI and frequently can help identify glitches in a process.  You can combine SLA’s into a RACI but there is always the risk of overcomplicating things.  Use your judgment and detail a level of specificity that is suitable to your organization and its management culture. 

Managing Expectations

Even in “normal” times, Talent Acquisition is challenging and is typically the work of unsung heroes.  Few will remember when filling a new job goes smoothly. Everyone will remember when things go wrong. Here is where the HRBP should play a supporting role.   We believe the best results are attained when the TA partner leads the recruiting engagement with clients.  The HRBP needs to be aware and up to date so s/he can support the TA team with client insights and as business circumstances shift.  Certainly, at the beginning of a new recruitment engagement, the HRBP and TA representative should partner with the client for an intake meeting to establish the selection criteria and other matters related to filling the position, such as ownership, logistics and timeline.  This enables a situation where:

  • The subject matter expert is in the room to provide information and answer questions;
  • The TA colleague gets more exposure to the business and the client’s talent strategies;
  • The client witnesses that HR is aligned and speaking with one voice (this sometimes helps to discourage the client from shopping for a better answer); and
  • If there are challenges to fulfilling the need, the key players can agree on how to proceed

Concluding Thoughts

If business partners and talent acquisition specialists work together to define who does what, how, and when, the organization can minimize friction and serve the business client best.  Like most areas of HR, success is a team sport.  HRBP’s need to share the ownership of their business relationships and TA teams need to be influencers of the processes by which talent joins the organization.

 About the Authors

Andy Rice is principal and lead strategist at Black Box Consulting, where he works with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations on integrated talent management strategy and planning, talent management transformation, change management, business process improvement, and technology selection and implementations. Andy graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley, and he spent the first five years after graduating as an engineer and engineering manager at Intel.

Contact Andy at andy.rice@blackbox-consulting.com to discuss how to optimize or transform all or part of your HR function through a review of your strategy, processes, use of technology and service delivery model.

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  He recently completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multigenerational perspective to solving client challenges.

Somers HR Solutions, LLC is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners to enhance their organizational impact.  He is dedicated to delivering answers for the real world.

Contact Ken at ken@somershrsolutions.com to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.