top of page

Who should HR report to in times of significant change?

In recent months I have been more intimately involved in the New South Wales Council amalgamation process.  Over the last few months, together with a colleague from the IR world, I  have been meeting many of the senior staff associated with the proposed amalgamations.  There has been an exceptionally high engagement from those attending the workshops and wanting as much information on the ‘road ahead’ as possible. 

My colleague from IR has an exceptional knowledge of the legislation and the Award and is rarely unable to answer the most difficult of questions, and there have been many. 

My observation and focus was different and not legally based.  My focus has been on the people and their psychological and emotional wellbeing. 

Yes, I did discuss models of change together with a review of the likely areas of resistance they might face as the change proper approaches. My thoughts were always underpinned by some simple truths, some of which are written in the various instruction documents issued by the Office of Local Government and the peak employers association, LGNSW, some gathered from many years working in this area of change.  Some of the first ‘truths’ presented are:

  • “Organisations don’t change – people do”, Dr Carol Goman, How to manage people through continuous change

  • “our staff are our most important asset”, a values statement of most organisations

  • “a responsive and cooperative approach to workforce and workplace management is essential at all times, but becomes even more important at time of change”, LGNSW Workplace Reform Kit.

These and many more statements of a similar kind state what many would accept as both wise and correct judgements about the importance of the staff engagement in any change. 

With all the forgoing I come to my point of concern.  The department primarily responsible for the staff engagement is the Human Resources department – and many newer names such as Workforce and Culture, People and Development, etc.  What I have found is that more often than not the HR department is not reporting directly to the General Manager (CEO in some instances) but through another department to the GM. 

This does not make sense at all.  The one manager responsible for all the staff and staff matters across the whole organisation is not reporting directly to and is not an integral part of the executive team. 

Imagine if the Director of Engineering reported through the Finance Director, or the Corporate Governance Director reported through the Director Engineering (after all, the Director Engineering probably has over 50% of the staff in their directorate).  Both, you might agree, are silly propositions.  Then why is it the case that the Manager HR (or similar so named), who is responsible for all the employees (not just a percentage), is not reporting as part of the Executive Team? 

If this Change is to work well, make no mistake, it will be the people who make it happen across the entire organisation.  A wise GM (CEO) would ensure they are fully informed and advised by those best placed to do so and I strongly argue that their HR manager must report to them in these significant times of change.  To do otherwise would send the message that the staff are indeed, a secondary consideration for the organisation.

It is also worth considering the signals sent by a wise and informed GM when the HR manager is reporting directly to the GM and executive.  Some of those signals might be:

  • HR is responsible for all staff, therefore advice about staff matters must transcend Divisional perspectives

  • Staff are important to me and I want their best interests considered in all decisions

  • Of fundamental importance to our success is the organisational culture and I want the person responsible for its nurture and development reporting directly to me

  • How we treat our staff is of upmost importance, and will hold the manager HR responsible to ensure all are treated with dignity and respect

  • An organisation committed to health and wellbeing will ensure that all staff have access to appropriate programs and opportunities, this is an HR responsibility

  • Talent management is administered by the HR department and the GM needs to be closely and visibly associated with this program

The coming months and possibly years will be a demanding time on those staff responsible to make the amalgamation (or boundary adjustment) work.  It will be people who make it work, or not, as the case might be.  The single department which needs to be across all of the organisations activities associated with the amalgamation is the HR department.  The manager of HR must, therefore, be a part of the executive team and report directly to the GM. 

Anything less sends a message that people are not quite as important as the policies, processes and procedures in the organisation.

Norm Turkington




bottom of page