Great HR professionals serve as strategic partners to others in the organization. This often involves collaborating with company leaders on key initiatives that affect team members. But the same level of attention is often not given to line managers, who spend the most amount of time with said team members. This is a mistake. 

The truth is: HR teams and line managers need each other. HR teams need line managers to provide their insights and support around initiatives, and line managers need HR to provide guidance so they can successfully support their team members. 

The benefits of stronger collaboration between HR and line managers

A strong partnership will help ensure that you can work together to provide a great employee experience, while meeting company goals. More specifically, great collaboration with line managers can allow you to:

  • Provide guidance: Managers are typically experts in their trade, but not necessarily in all aspects of people management. Your HR team should guide and support them on things like recruiting, employee engagement, and retention.
  • Gather feedback: Line managers can provide invaluable insights about the types of HR support and people programs their team needs, and provide a sounding board for proposed initiatives. For instance, line managers may see burnout happening on their teams. Work with them on solutions that you may roll out to the entire company, like a company-wide mental health day, or a meditation program.
  • Build HR champions: Strong relationships can turn line managers into HR champions, who will support your initiatives and go to bat for you with their colleagues. This can help build momentum internally and ensure a smoother rollout with higher adoption rates.
  • Improve implementation: Line managers are crucial to successfully implementing HR initiatives within your organization, due to their relationships with individual team members. If, for example, you’re focusing on reducing bias in your hiring process, line managers can help ensure their interview panels are providing an equitable recruitment process. They can also answer questions team members may have about company-wide initiatives.
  • Create a consistent employee experience: The employee experience can vary widely from team to team, due to different management and team dynamics. For example, one manager may be more stringent about a set work schedule, while another may freely approve time off requests and remote work days. A strong relationship can better enable you to discuss these differences with line managers, so you can provide a more consistent employee experience.

How to build stronger partnerships with your line managers

A great partnership with line managers requires two-way collaboration. You each have unique vantage points, and sharing those can enable a stronger partnership. 

Here are some tips for building a good working relationship with individual line managers:

  • Start early: Meet with line managers during employee onboarding to welcome them, and ensure they have the resources they need to lead their teams. Check in with new line managers at the end of their first day, week, and month to see how they’re settling in, and to let them know your team is always available to help.
  • Get to know them: Invite line managers to coffee or lunch, even if it’s virtual, to get to know them better. Working relationships are so much stronger when people get to know each other on a more personal level, including personal and professional interests and goals. 
  • Ask for their input: Regularly ask your line managers for input around things they, or their team members, may be struggling with, and what you can do to help. For example, if a manager sees high turnover related to compensation, they may ask you to update salary bands and make room for adjustments in your next review cycle. Also ask for feedback on key strategic initiatives you’re planning so they can weigh in with constructive criticism before they’re launched. This can help you garner support and help the manager feel invested in the program’s success.
  • Communicate: Thoroughly communicate with line managers about HR program rollouts before you announce them company-wide. Your team members will likely have questions, and your line managers need to be prepared to answer them. They may even be able to anticipate the questions their teams will have, so you can prepare for those in advance. Use multiple communication channels, including a verbal announcement, a video recording of the announcement, and a written document outlining the announcement details and FAQs.
  • Provide the right technology and tools: The right technology and tools can guide your managers, while empowering them to lead their teams. For example, a good People Operations Platform will track employee data so managers know when their team members were last promoted, given a pay increase, or approved for a day off work. This can help them better support their teams and improve retention.

Final thoughts on the relationship between HR and line managers

Building relationships takes time, and there are likely more line managers than there are HR professionals on your team. Don’t let that dissuade you from taking on this important work. A quick check-in during an employee’s first week, or a casual conversation in the break room, can all contribute to a strong working relationship. 

Focus first on the managers who are doing things right. For instance, those with the lowest turnover rates, or the highest employee engagement rates. Find out what they’re doing to contribute to that, and if there are any learnings that can be applied to the rest of the organization. Then focus on new line managers as they’re hired or promoted. This can help you build a strong relationship from the beginning. Over time, get to know more of your line managers and focus your efforts where they’re being well received. 


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