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Safe Space – I can’t stop rescuing people, and it’s making me ineffective!

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Welcome to the Safe Space – where managers can share their issues, and gain advice from top learning & development consultants.

Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature, we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.

This month we respond to a very busy HR manager, who is being pulled in different directions.

What’s the issue

Hello =mc team,

I hope this email finds you well. I work as an HR manager in a small animal welfare charity, and while I genuinely care about our people (and the animals!). I’ve found myself in a bit of a predicament. It seems that instead of supporting our managers to handle people issues themselves, I’ve become somewhat of a “rescuer.” Whenever there’s a problem with an employee, big or small, the managers tend to come to me rather than dealing with it themselves. The employees do it too: they ask me for questions, permissions, or decisions that really their manager should deal with.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I’m happy to be helpful. But lately, it’s become overwhelming. I’m constantly being pulled away from more strategic HR tasks because I’m busy dealing with day-to-day issues. I have a couple of really big projects that have stalled, because I can’t get to them. It’s all a bit circular too – for example, if I don’t get a new HRIS sorted out, I can’t make our processes better, and therefore people will keep coming to me for help. I also can’t delegate – I have a part time HR administrator and we don’t have the funds for me to hire an advisor or business partner.

The thing is, I know our managers are busy too and they genuinely appreciate me. We’re all very close because we all care a lot about the work our charity does. I don’t want to complain or upset people yet I can’t help but feel stuck in this rescuer role and I want to be able to focus on initiatives that will truly benefit our organisation in the long run, rather than constantly putting out fires.

Do you have any advice on how I can get our managers to take more ownership? I want to support them in developing their leadership skills and becoming more self-sufficient, but I’m not sure how to approach the situation without coming across as dismissive of their concerns. I appreciate any guidance you can offer.

Sincerely, Feeling Stuck in Rescuing

What our consultants say:

Yvette

Hello busy HR Manager. I totally feel you! I have been there myself. Being a manager with little admin or operational support means you become accountable for the day-to-day essentials as well as the big stuff. It can be super tempting to stay in that rescuer mode too when it makes you feel validated and useful. However as you have said, your time would be better spent and more impactful if you could step back and look up a bit. Perhaps start with creating some consistency by setting expectations around key processes. Establish a structured framework for addressing people issues within your charity. This could include clear policies and procedures outlining the steps managers should take when faced with various HR-related challenges. Consider the questions employees ask and how this information could be made more easily available. Start with relatively straightforward issues and build from there. This could be a good project for your HR Admin to help you on too. So that you don’t lose the supportive element, you could then designate certain slots or meetings where managers can drop in and talk about specific issues. You could gently remind them to prepare for these. I did something similar in my previous life in HR, whereby I had a series of catch-up meetings with each manager (one or two a week was all I needed to get around them all in rotation). This meant that non-urgent issues could be stored for those conversations and eventually managers began to answer their own questions before I even got to our meeting. By creating boundaries and a framework, you encourage managers to take ownership while still providing them with a sense of support and care. You also get to ringfence the time you need for your bigger tasks.

Philly

Dear HR Manager, thanks so much for writing in. This is a common issue, I hear it from so many people we work with so you are not alone. I think it’s lovely that you care so much about the cause and your people. I would hate to see you lose that. However, being pulled in so many directions can be really hard and take a strain on your own well-being too, so it’s really important to find a balance that works for you, and get help where you need it. I know you can’t delegate but could you outsource? This could give you a way to rescue them by letting someone else do the work. If you looked at the most common issues your managers bring to you, is there a pattern? For example, topics such as conflict resolution, performance management, absence management, career development and effective communication? If so, you could look for training sessions or workshops specifically designed to enhance these skills. These could then be adapted to bring to life the frameworks Yvette has suggested. You’d then be able to refer them back to their training with each new ‘fire’ that they bring to you. If budgets are tight, curate resources that are freely available online. Provide them with resources like video content for handling common people issues autonomously. By investing in their development, you can empower them to tackle these situations confidently without always needing to rely on you for assistance.

Several stones balanced on top of each other with a beach and wavy sea in the background, as well as blue sky.

Rachel

Oh dear, I’m really sorry HR Manager, I may have been one of these people in my former management role! When I worked as a fundraising manager, I really valued the help I got from HR. It was so reassuring! But I can tell you from experience it is also really satisfying when I could be more independent and solve the issues or questions that came up in my team myself. The big change I went through was learning to take more of a coaching approach with my team, and I can see in hindsight that my HR colleagues did the same with me over time. Coaching enables you to foster a culture where managers are encouraged to take responsibility and also feel more confident to do it alone. You can back this up by recognising and celebrating instances where managers successfully handle people issues on their own. Where you find that managers still want you to get involved, or where you may get dragged into something, you can also use coaching as a teaching moment to reinforce the importance of autonomy and proactive problem-solving. You could also set up a managers meeting as a networking opportunity for them to coach each other. This way they hear other experiences (building consistency) and coach each other (building accountability). Help by giving them simple open questions they can use: what is at the heart of this issue? When have you experienced something similar? What went well? What might you have done differently in hindsight? What does that mean for your current situation? What action can you take? If you do this alongside the advice from Yvette and Philly, you can gradually shift the dynamics between you and the management group. Empowering managers to become more self-sufficient in handling people issues while allowing you to focus on more strategic HR initiatives is ultimately in the best interest of your charity.

What’s next?

If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.

If you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on safespace@managementcentre.co.uk. Whilst we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...

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Philly Graham

About Philly Graham

Philly specialises in communications, leadership and management development and personal effectiveness. She is an accredited coach, action learning set facilitator and a CIPD Learning and Development Associate. Philly’s career...

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Rachel Whittle

About Rachel Whittle

Rachel specialises in management development and personal effectiveness. Rachel has over 10 years’ experience in the charity sector. Before joining =mc, she specialised in direct marketing and was a...

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