What to Do When Management Stonewalls HR

Human resources often frustratingly encounters resistance from the very group that benefits from HR expertise — the company’s managers. Limited understanding of HR’s influence on the organization or dissatisfaction with the level of service HR provides may be the culprit in managers’ attempts to stonewall HR. Therefore, HR must show that it adds value to the organization, recommends Deloitte Consulting in a 2008 white paper, “Taking HR to the Next Level.”


In HR’s quest to add value to the organization and overcome the challenges posed by management, it must take advantage of the several discrete opportunities to emphasize the importance of HR’ presence. Establishing credibility, gaining trust, empowering managers and illustrating a return on investment in HR activities aren’t just workarounds that improve HR’s ability to handle stonewalling by management. They are solid opportunities to add value to the organization and improve management’s perception of HR.


Frontline supervisors and managers often resist HR input because they lack trust and credibility in the expertise of HR staff. If the company’s HR presence is relatively new, supervisors and managers also may be wary of HR involvement in matters they previously managed on their own. The key to gaining the trust of department leadership is to take every opportunity to demonstrate that the HR staff can be trusted. Avoid making promises that HR cannot live up to, such as the department will get across-the-board raises or HR can reduce turnover from double digits to single digits in just one year.


When management attempts to stonewall HR, establish credibility through demonstrating expertise and relationship-building. Employees and managers come to HR with questions about wages, benefits, working conditions and myriad other concerns, and the HR staff is expected to be the organization’s reliable source of employment-related information. HR credibility is based on providing reliable and accurate information to employees. Assisting managers in resolving their departmental employee relations issues is another effective way to establish credibility. Critical to HR staffers’ abilities to maintain their expertise is staying abreast of labor and employment laws, pending legislation and HR best practices.


Empowering managers to resolve workforce issues can eliminate some of the push-back HR receives from frontline leadership. HR staffers are in a position to lend their expertise to the company’s supervisors and managers and to provide guidance on how to engage employees. Giving managers the tools to become better leaders who can motivate their employees is an effective way to address their lack of confidence in HR. When they see that HR supports their development and enables them to make wise decisions concerning employee productivity, they are likely to reciprocate that support.

Return on Investment

Illustrating the return on investment can be particularly effective when HR presents its case for funding to support HR activities and functions. For example, when HR lobbies for money to conduct in-house training, the argument that employee development can reduce turnover and increase retention can be substantiated by case studies. Later, the return on investment can be demonstrated through results from employee opinion surveys and focus group discussions that applaud HR’s effort to improve job skills and provide training to prepare employees for future roles with the company.