How far can we empower line managers in a global company?

At a recent session on global leadership, an HR business partner from the Netherlands challenged the devolution of so many people management responsibilities to line managers when their teams were global.

HR as an enabling support and control function often tries to support line managers in the exercise of people management practices such as recruitment, development, appraisal and discipline but it’s also almost an article of faith that the line manager should maintain the primary responsibility to implement this themselves, rather than ask HR to do it.

When I first heard her point I was quite surprised. I have accepted the traditional wisdom that management responsibilities should always be delivered by the line manager.

However, this HR business partner’s point was a good one. Line managers with widespread international teams can’t possibly be the experts in local legislation, process and practices and it’s unfair to expect them to do so.

A line manager who learned their practices in the US management environment may genuinely find it incomprehensible when faced with the plethora of employment protections, consultation requirements and employment terms of their European team members. In some of these cases, the costs of getting it wrong are very high.

So in global teams and organizations perhaps we should move away from the assumption that the line manager handles everything. It may be that some tasks traditionally considered sacred to line management should actually be carried out by other specialists.

I’m still thinking through the consequences of this, but I think it is worth challenging the assumption and thinking through who’s the best person to do the different management tasks. In reality, we already are used to having multiple inputs:

  • In some of our clients’organizations, individual team members conduct each other’s appraisals.
  • In a matrix organization, activity management, feedback and professional development may be driven by different managers.
  • Many organizations use 360° feedback as part of development planning.
  • Many of us have multiple stakeholders and participate in multiple virtual teams.

The trick, I think, is in being clear about who is doing what, and, generally, this should be based on expertise rather than an automatic assumption of authority flowing from a reporting line.

Why not….?

  • Find out more about the Global Leadership sessions that Kevan mentions: Global Leadership Training
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About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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