Dotted Line Reporting Relationship

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Official logo of City of ScottsdaleA reader writes that she was given managerial responsibilities. Sorta. She works in HR and relies on other people to help her accomplish her goals. Relationships with her colleagues are clear. She is down in the org chart system as a “dotted line” manager. My reader is supervising work and outcomes but not the daily performance of the employees themselves.

And apparently it’s not going well. Employees are hostile.

(No shit! I’m shocked! HR women being hostile to other women in positions of authority! Never!)

I have nothing but sympathy for my poor reader. I managed several dotted line reporting relationships in two companies. In my first managerial role, I was young and looked like a high schooler. The HR employees were off site and reported directly to the local business executive.  They reported to me for overarching HR strategy. I reported to the CHRO.

That went over like a lead balloon.

So how do you manage someone who doesn’t want to be managed? Good question. You make compliance easy and non-compliance difficult. It works for safety processes in a factory. It works when you’re managing people through influence, too.

Managing a pissy HR lady is never easy so I had to do things like randomly show up in a city on a Monday morning and say, “I never heard back from you about our weekly staff meetings so I’m here to work, this week.”

Funny how a trip to Oklahoma City gets interesting pretty quickly.

And when the HR lady in Scottsdale told me that she didn’t have an office available for my surprise visit, I said, “I’ll use yours.”

God, I miss being 26 and brave.

I’m a quick study — and I’m disengaged from my career. That’s almost lethal. It doesn’t matter if you like me. It just matters if you do your job. Very easily, I learned how to make my requests clear and simple and make failure to meet my requests super-difficult. After an excruciating conversation with a Human Resources team in Kentucky, I once told a woman that her fears were right — my purpose was to come to work every day and judge her.

She said, “I can’t tell if you’re serious or joking.”

I said, “I’m judging you for that, too.”

(Just so you know, everyone at The Starr Conspiracy is shaking their heads in sympathy with this poor woman.)

Dotted line relationships are the worst, aren’t they? Thankfully I had some great mentors and learned how to survive. The best advice I received was to be very generous with recognition. When I looked good, everyone else looked better. That’s the only way to do it.

Years later, I had to work though other people to accomplish goals in other countries. Once I established my bona fides as a credible HR chick and showed that I didn’t care about power or org charts, my life was super-easy. In fact, I formed amazing friendships with those individuals because I was a resource instead of yet another bossypants HR lady on a power-trip.

So my advice to someone managing people who don’t want to be managed?

  • Be clear. Be concise. Be decisive. Be generous with praise. Don’t ask for permission. Have high expectations and high standards.

That’s good advice for managing a dotted line relationship or training a dog. You pick.

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