How you should react to suggestions made by your employees

by Prof. Dr. Armin Trost

As an HR manager, I am sure you are you are familiar with the following situation: You have an appointment with some members of your staff, who proudly present their proposals for whatever situation. It may be about the further development of the annual performance review, your employer brand, the next employee survey, a training concept or a new structure of the assessment center for the selection of future trainees. Your employees usually have prepared PowerPoint presentations. Each participant receives a handout. After an hour of presentation, questions, answers, the meeting is over. As HR manager, you give your team some valuable advice to take along and they return to work enlightened and inspired. You will see them again two weeks later.

This is how it goes in numerous HR departments of most companies. This process of vertical coordination continues until the HR manager is happy with what is being presented. Operational implementation follows. And that is precisely one reason why HR is receiving so little acceptance from the specialist disciplines. Find the error!

The fact that your team develop new ideas, suggestions, and concepts is great. That they present them to their superiors is expected. However, it is a big mistake for all parties involved to rely solely on the superior’s feedback. If employees primarily feel only answerable to their direct executives, customers will be left behind. This applies outside HR as well.

So, let’s rewind. If you as the HR manager receive proposals again from your employees, I would advise you to react with the following questions: “Who benefits from your proposal? Have you already presented your ideas to employees in the business line? If not, grab some employees in the canteen (or anywhere else) and show them your concept. What do the employees think about it? Did they find it helpful? What problems are you solving with it? Have you gained agreement from at least five employees from the specialist areas for this topic in order to organize a suitable meeting or workshop with them? I am curious about the feedback you receive from this end.”

You don’t have to like the ideas your staff present you. However, if the people in the line feel that they will benefit from such an idea, then support it. Do you want your employees to feel committed to you? Or do you and your team want to be committed to service your employees, executives, and applicants? That’s the question.

Of course, you cannot always react that way as an HR manager. There are also situations where you sometimes have to implement inconvenient measures that will not be well-liked by the respective areas. You often find yourself in a conflict situation where you have to weigh the balance between employer interests and staff requirements. One or the other dilemma will be unavoidable.

This writing is more about a basic attitude, the way you would usually act and make decisions. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about it.