General managers should be involved up to their eyeballs in setting human resources strategy and policies, adapting the strategy and policies on a divisional or regional basis (and then on a plant or facility basis), and implementing the policies by adapting them suitably to particular employees and groups. In fact, general managers should take the lead on these tasks. Why? Given the interdependencies with other aspects of the organization, it takes general management perspective or, if you prefer, general management gut feel to integrate a strategy with other aspects of strategy. And, moving onto the line, because of her day-to-day contact with her subordinates, it is the line manager who is best situated to provide evaluation, meaningful feedback, and useful advice up the line about what a specific employee requires. Moreover, we are keen in most cases on maintaining a “personal touch” when it comes to work force administration, because employees tend to appreciate it. Who better to give this personal touch than one’s immediate supervisor?
It is worth observing here that if general managers are going to be given primary responsibility for implementing nontrivial human resources policy on the line, then there is another good reason to have general managers be responsible for formulating those policies in the first place: When the people who make policy don’t have to implement it, the discipline imposed by having to bear the costs of implementation is lost. And, to reverse the argument, when those who must implement a policy did not help formulate it, we can anticipate less commitment to that policy in the first place. Having policy set by top management back at headquarters and then implemented by line managers in the field doesn’t conform precisely to the rule that “those who implement should decide,” which will lead us later in this chapter to some thoughts about which general managers should set human resources policies. But there is likely to be a tighter connection between those who set policy and those who implement when both groups are drawn from the ranks of general management than if human resources specialists are primarily responsible for either policy formulation or policy implementation.
Those who are responsible for formulating a strategy and handling the implementation of policies confront a set of tasks that are ambiguous and uncertain, involving outcomes that are noisy and that can take a very long time to be realized. This makes it very difficult to rely on direct, explicit tools to motivate and reward those who are responsible for these tasks. Handing these human resources tasks over to general managers doesn’t solve this problem, by a long shot. Indeed, to the extent that general managers (more than human resources specialists) must attend to many different agendas, some of which may be more easily monitored, measured, and motivated, this may lead to the bad outcome whereby human resources management is put on a far-toward-the-back burner. But if a culture and performance management system can be put in place for general managers that emphasize the critical importance of human resources-if there is a sense that this is an important prerequisite to rise within the organization – then the motivational problems may not be insoluble.
Young managers “produce”- they design, manufacture, sell, and so on. Mid-career executives manage the young managers – they spend the bulk of their time developing the human resources in their care and are evaluated in large measure according to how well they do so. And senior managers manage big – picture issues and external affairs. The point is twofold. First, the (historical) lack of labor mobility means that mid-career managers develop a fairly long and detailed track record as managers of human resources. For performance data that are both noisy and delayed in coming, this is a great advantage. (Unhappily, it is not an advantage that can be replicated in all environments.) And second, the culture of management in these firms attach primacy to human resources. This is a lever that many organizations can pull.