Historically, the HR and manager relationship has experienced a lot of tension. Managers tend to view HR as too administrivia, while HR teams don’t feel like managers are fulfilling their roles as culture champions. But the relationship between HR and managers is important when it comes to the success of an organisation, and both sides need each other to accomplish their respective goals.

That’s why we want to create a world of work where the HR can enable their organisation’s managers to connect, engage, inspire, and lead

Identify shared goals

Before embarking on any project or initiative together, HR teams and managers need to identify their shared goals. To be clear: their goals don’t have to be exactly the same or 100% aligned – that’s simply not realistic. But they should, at the very least, have a shared intent. For instance, the shared intent can be improving the wellbeing of employees or increasing the diversity of the talent pool. Without taking the time to identify these commonalities, it may feel like HR is getting in the way of managers’ goals or vice versa.

To work on this, HR should deploy an employee feedback strategy. An employee feedback strategy is a powerful way to collect feedback at scale. You can use this data to identify where your employees and teams are succeeding or struggling. This will help HR better support managers where they actually need help and identify areas where there are shared interests. 

Additionally, open dialogue should be encouraged. If managers and HR were to have more transparent conversations with one another, it will not only build trust, but it’ll also encourage knowledge sharing – which can be beneficial to both sides, who each bring unique perspectives to the table.  

Minimise areas of conflict 

Even after discussing shared goals, there will likely still be areas of conflict. For example, managers and HR may decide to approach their goals in different ways or have varying levels of priorities. This is perfectly normal, but it’s important to acknowledge that these conflicts exist and find ways to minimise them as much as possible. 

You should clearly identify responsibilities. When HR teams and managers collaborate on a project, it’s important to clarify who is responsible for what. This will create greater accountability on both sides and reduce the chances of people stepping on each other’s feet. For example, managers and HR should decide how to divide responsibilities for the employee onboarding process. Perhaps HR sets the overall strategy while managers implement the process and use feedback to iterate on the program. While there’s no “right” way to approach this, it’s essential to have the conversation first. 

Also, set realistic expectations. By being straightforward about what’s on each other’s plates and setting clear expectations, you can minimise a lot of misunderstandings.

Create alignment 

To create alignment, it may be helpful for HR to approach managers as both a customer and a partner. The business has needs and managers have needs, and HR has to navigate the alignment between those areas. Similarly, managers need to be communicative with HR about what their needs are and how HR can be supportive of them, as well as how they can better amplify HR’s goals. 

HR should provide the right tools to managers. You can use the results of your employee feedback strategy to provide tools that align with the needs of managers. For example, if managers are struggling with their 1-on-1 conversations, you can give them access to a platform like Culture Amp to help managers have more impactful 1-on-1 meetings with their direct reports

You should also agree on shared systems. HR needs to define which systems are required and why. But they also need to give managers the autonomy to approach things in their own way, where it makes sense. Let’s use the example we mentioned above. HR may want all managers to use Culture Amp for the sake of consistency and accountability, but it can be up to the manager’s (and direct report’s) discretion exactly how they want to utilise the tools that are offered in the platform. 

Close the loop 

Without constant communication, it can be easy to assume that other people aren’t making progress. So it’s common for HR to take feedback from managers and make changes without them being aware. Similarly, managers may be taking action on their shared goals, but HR has no way of knowing. All of this has the potential to erode trust. That’s why there needs to be a mechanism in place to make sure HR teams and managers are closing the loop when it comes to shared initiatives. 

Both sets of staff should have regular check-ins. To demonstrate that projects are progressing and minimise potential frustrations on both sides, HR teams and managers should have regular check-ins. This can take the form of monthly conversations or even quick updates in a shared Slack channel to ensure that everyone is aware of what other people on the team are doing. 

Surveys should also be used. Similarly, surveys are a great way to close to the loop on any project. Collecting feedback from employees offers the perfect opportunity for HR leaders and managers to get together, discuss the results, and collectively decide on what to change or improve for the next project. 

With the right approach, the HR and manager relationship can be an incredibly valuable asset to an organisation and its people. Join our webinar ‘Amplify your managers to create better leaders’ to learn how HR can enable their organisation’s managers to connect, engage, inspire, and lead.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.