Workplace Wisdom

Building partnerships between HR, line managers


Over the years, the skills and talent of human resources (HR) practitioners have proven beneficial to companies, making the HR unit more strategic and a key factor to corporate success. As businesses become increasingly competitive, some organizations in the Philippines now turn to their human resources unit to help drive company strategies.

Yet the transition to being strategic has only been possible with the support of the line. In these organizations, managers across units find themselves having a say and greater involvement in recruitment, employee coaching, and performance management, among others—allowing them to become more effective leaders on the floor and HR to become more strategic in its role.

These changes are not widespread and are not happening as fast as HR practitioners would wish. Most line managers still refuse to enhance their people management role. How then can we shape line managers attitude to be more accepting of enhanced people management functions?

To shed light on the matter, the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development (Ateneo CORD) conducted a study on the factors that may be related to line managers’ willingness and ability to perform HR functions. A survey was administered among 104 line managers from various sectors. The survey measured how motivated and able line managers were in performing HR functions, as well as how they regarded their own HR department.

Survey responses revealed that HR is still mainly seen as having administrative functions but with a more recognized role as a strategic partner to the organization.

Results also showed that the ability to perform HR functions comes hand in hand with motivation. What hinders leaders from performing a task such as coaching is their lack of ability to do so. Therefore, developing the human resource management skills of line managers not only empowers them but also motivates them, making them more likely to be receptive to learning. Ability and motivation are prerequisites to performing a task. HR practitioners, therefore, must not only provide training to build skills but must also place efforts in changing the mindset of line managers.

The study also revealed that if HR is positively regarded, line managers are more capable and motivated to perform enhanced people management functions. For instance, an HR department that provides a seamless selection process accompanied by training may expect to have line mangers proficient and willing to take part in selection and employee development.

Having a high positive regard for HR, means that HR has a track record of providing quality service to other departments. A well-established HR therefore would not only provide line managers support but would also ensure that the functions being transferred to line leaders already have systems in place.

Encouraging line managers to assume human resources management functions will require adjustments in other systems and structures. For instance, performance measures for line managers must now include greater people management functions (such as employee relations and development) previously thought of as within the realm of HR. Companies will also need to invest on soft skills such as communication, coaching and conflict management among other trainings.

The partnering of HR and line managers is certainly not an easy endeavor but critical in the process of HRs transitioning to a strategic role. The benefits of this partnership will only be felt if the organizations would be willing to put in time, effort and resources in developing efficient HR systems and the necessary structures and processes to encourage line managers to assume a greater role in people management.

(Mandi and EJ are taking advanced studies at the Ateneo de Manila University. They are also working at the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development. The article is based on their paper presented during the 50th Psychological Association of the Philippines national convention in Cebu. For comments and queries, contact

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  • bensangalang

    Managing people is an inherent part of a line manager’s job.  This should be clear to any manager who understands that “management is the efficient and economical utilization of men, materials, money, space and time” (as defined by Robert McNamarra, former President of the World Bank and Secretary of the US Department of Defense).  On this premise, HR role should be principally advisory, policy making and systems development (in the area of people management).  When people management decisions – from hiring to developing, from disciplining to firing – rests heavily in the hands of the HR manager, the line manager is disempowered, de-motivated, and even confused.  Some may even welcome the idea of removing that important role from the line manager’s job, given men’s natural disinclination to handle adverse people management actions.  Partnership (or cooperation) between HR and line managers is not a matter to be encouraged, it should be a matter of organizational policy.

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