My Boss Won't Let Me Do My Job!

Last Updated Aug 27, 2010 6:37 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I work in a small, family-owned company that previously did not have an HR Department. I am setting up the policies, processes and procedures and I'm a one-woman HR show. My boss previously handled the major HR issues although some functions were being done by different staff members. However, my boss has no idea about HR Department Functions or how to handle staff. She is unwilling to delegate, takes forever to approve anything or give feedback and is stuck to what she calls "my style" (her way of doing things, her template designs, her manual record-keeping methods... "her style"). She performs disciplinary actions like salary deductions, terminations and her children also recruit and terminate staff haphazardly, then I stumble across the information and have to turn into Miss Fix-It to avoid legal repercussions. It is SO frustrating and I'm at my wits end about the same. I love what I do and can clearly see that there is a lot to do from an HR perspective for this Company. They said they wanted an HR Manager, but their actions are driving me nuts. What should I do?
You mean, what should you do besides start looking for a new job?

Okay, I understand that that isn't always a practical solution. Besides, some people like challenges and you've got one, so let's tackle it.

If your boss is completely irrational (and some are), ignore all this and just go looking for a new job. But, if there is some rationality what you need is to have a hear-to-heart talk with the boss. Make an appointment and sit down and do the following:
  1. Ask what her expectations are. So often, the problem is that expectations are mismatched. You're an experienced HR manager so you know what you are supposed to be doing. She's watched Toby on The Office and doesn't have a clue what you are supposed to do.
  2. Listen and take notes. Don't argue that an HR manager isn't responsible for the company picnic, or that your time can be better spent avoiding messes instead of cleaning them up, just listen.
  3. Repeat back what you've heard. "You want me to be in charge of disciplinary processes?" "I will be responsible for recruiting and screening candidates?" Make sure you clearly understand what your big responsibilities are. Note, this is not detail, this is big picture only.
  4. Write up the list and e-mail it to your boss. State clearly that this e-mail is confirming your discussion earlier that a day and ask specifically that she make any corrections.
  5. Figure out the tools and authority levels you will need to do your job. This will take some considerable work on your part. You have to assume that your boss knows nothing bout the processes needed to make things work smoothly. This isn't to say she doesn't know, but you need to make sure everything is clear. Don't assume that just because your boss said you were in charge of the disciplinary process that she (or her children) will stop firing or lowering salaries without consulting you.
  6. Present your detailed job description to your boss. Be prepared for a discussion. Being prepared means you can't be defensive and you have to expect changes will be made. She will balk at the idea that you need to approve a termination, for instance. She's the boss. She owns the company. She trusts her children. So, why should you have this authority? Talk directly about style. Decide if it's important to demand your own style or if you can deal with your boss's style.
  7. State your qualifications and suck up at the same time. "I totally see where you're coming from, but the reason you wanted an HR manager was so that the company will have consistent disciplinary actions that will be upheld in a court of law. You've worked so hard to build this businesses, I'd hate to see anything happen to it. I can help lower the risks involved in terminating a problem employee."
  8. Be prepared to make compromises. You won't be able to get everything you want. Be willing to compromise.
  9. Come to an agreement. This will require a lot of back and forth, but hopefully you'll be able to agree. Again, write it up and e-mail it. (I like e-mail because even if she deletes it and claims to have never seen it, you have a record of when it was sent, and depending on your system, you might even have a record of when it was received, opened and deleted.
  10. Be patient. You're actually asking for big changes here. They will seem obvious to you, so remind yourself that it may not be obvious to everyone. It will take a lot of gentle reminders to make things work, but you should slowly be able to make changes to the company culture.
Of course, this isn't guaranteed to work. Lots of family run businesses run themselves into the ground because they aren't willing to listen to non-family members. Hopefully you'll be able to make the changes necessary and keep the boss happy.
Photo by Liz (perspicacious.org), Flickr cc 2.0

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