Strategic competition between HR managers

The chief executive officer (CEO) of a newly established $10-million enterprise hired two junior human resource (HR) managers at the same time. They were told to handle specialized functions. Manager A is in charge of recruitment, compensation, benefits, and organizational development, while B handles training, employee engagement, discipline, and employee relations. The two managers were given up to 15 months each to perform their best. After that, they were to switch responsibilities in order to experience handling all HR functions. They were expected to perform their best without the CEO’s close supervision. After 30 months, their performance was to be assessed by the CEO, with one to be promoted to senior manager. The “losing” manager had the option to continue working reporting directly to the “winning” manager. What is your opinion about this arrangement? — Yellow Bell.

Anyone can win… unless there are two or more entries. In your case there are two HR managers knowingly competing for a senior managerial position. Is this the right approach? That question is best answered by the CEO, who has created a strategic competition, instead of a close partnership between the two HR managers.

To my mind, however, this is a dangerous and unhealthy situation. Take a cold, honest look by answering this question: How much more important is internal competition than cooperation?

In any work situation, we need cooperation more than competition. If you believe in this, the CEO should reward cooperation and teamwork, not animosity and competition. This means requiring cooperation as an important factor to succeed in one’s job. Reward people who help others do their job in the best way possible. This must be emphasized to the two HR managers.

Let’s borrow an idea from basketball, where assists are a key factor in whether teams win or not.

It’s easy to see how competition could erode cooperation. Under such conditions, it would be difficult for both managers to perform individually to the best of their ability. But that’s not all; to understand the role of motivation in a competitive environment, it’s important to explore the time-tested theories of “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation put forward by psychologist Frederick Herzberg.

“Intrinsic” motivation is when one is heavily influenced by a personal goal regardless of “extrinsic” factors like higher pay and benefits that cannot be found elsewhere. That’s why the CEO must consider both types of motivation in challenging the HR managers to cooperate. I recommend the following guidelines to encourage cooperation:

One, establish a clear job description, standards, and goals. This is a statement of what, why, and how the tasks are to be done by each manager. For example, manager A, who is in charge of recruitment, could be given a deadline of 45 days in which to hire new employees. Manager B, who handles employee engagement, may be set a target of maintaining the turnover rate at or below 7%.

Two, provide them with the freedom to do their jobs. This works with the CEO’s preference not to micromanage the two junior managers. Define all things that can be decided at their level without seeking prior approval from the CEO. To make this effective, managers must have the proper authority and responsibility for discharging their functions to a certain extent.

Last, challenge the managers to perform difficult assignments. Allow them to choose special projects that will help the organization improve its efficiency and eliminate operational waste, among other things. HR is typically seen as a cost center. This is good reason to make the two managers address issues that could have a dramatic impact on the business.

Even if the CEO keeps a safe distance from the two managers, it doesn’t mean ignoring regular face-to-face interaction or even brief online communication. It’s imperative that an engagement dialogue be performed on a regular, even informal basis to determine the state of their morale at any given time, as most CEOs do not like surprises.

My point is this — what if one of them resigns? People do what they have to do given the right opportunity, particularly if they see the need to leave a toxic, uncooperative work environment or an unreasonable rat race. Without regular interaction, it’s hard to make assumptions about the future. Imagine how much harder that would be for a CEO who waits 30 months to assess the managers’ individual performance.

Even if the CEO gives the two managers the freedom to do their jobs, interaction is key. Each manager must be coached, guided, and nurtured by the CEO without favoritism.


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