Responsibility vs Authority

Some of my responsibilities are being outsourced. (No worries–my employment status will not change as a result of this outsourcing.) Nevertheless, it’s a high stress thing to turn responsibilities over to an outside firm. At the same time, we are setting our annual performance goals, especially as they relate to the outsourcing. My boss and I had the following conversation (well, paraphrased to make me sound more articulate and clever than I really am):

Boss: The outsourcing needs to be seamless in order for you to meet your goal.
EHL: Define seamless.
Boss: The client will not experience any change in service. They will not know that this task has been outsourced.
EHL: No.
Boss: No?
EHL: No, that is not a goal I’ll accept.
Boss: Why?
EHL: Because the outsourcers have different requirements. For instance, they require a 5 day turn around. We currently give a one hour turn around in an emergency. Additionally, no matter what information I give the outsources, I cannot guarentee that they will do it correctly. (I then listed examples from a previous outsourcing that has caused all of us HR types endless woes.)
Boss: Well, you need to make it happen.
EHL: I have no authority over the outsource company. They don’t report to me. I don’t have hire/fire authority over the person they assign to the task. You want me to be responsible for something I have no authority over.
Boss: How about your goal is to “provide the outsourcer with all necessary information to complete the task.”
EHL: Much better

Ahh, the responsibility vs. authority problem. It’s a big one we face in HR. We’re responsible to make good hires, reduce turnover, fill the leadership pipeline, make the EEO and OFCCP happy and solve every problem under the sun. But, do we have the authority to do so?

Some HR people might. But, who makes the final decision on who to hire? The Staffing Rep? Not likely. Staffing can send a variety of candidates, but it’s the manager who makes the hiring decision. What about managers? Internal promotion decisions are made by current management. Sure, HR can have input, but the final decision? Line management. We can offer management training classes out the wazoo, but we are dependent upon line management to get their employees in the classes.

But, who is held responsible for all these things? HR.

It really annoys me. If you are going to make me responsible, give me authority.

Kris at the HR Capitalist has the subitle : Get to the table, stay at the table. He’s a wise man. Being at the table helps give you authority to accomplish the things you are already responsible for.

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9 thoughts on “Responsibility vs Authority

  1. There is no such thing as seamless outsourcing. There is such as thing as giving people responsibility without power. It is called “dumping.”

  2. Who should be responsible for the final decision on hiring someone? I do believe that this should not have nor the authority nor responsibility to hire. The person who will have to “live with the decision” – the manager – should be the one with the last word, and also be accountable for his hiring decisions. It is a good thing that HR give input to hel the manager make an informed decision, but they cannot be expected to be able to assess the competency/suitability of the candidate (unless it is a HR position).

  3. Huh – my second sentence in the previous post shoud read “I do believe that HR should not have the authority nor the responsibility to hire.”

  4. Anonymous–I agree with you 100%. However, HR is held accountable for turnover and employee performance. We don’t make the final decision, we do get yelled at if it goes bad, though.

    Wally–you are, of course, correct. Can you come explain this to my company?

  5. Anonymous who wrote before here.

    << However, HR is held accountable for turnover and employee performance. >>

    This is really a bummer. The right thing to do would be to separate problems caused by a bad performance from the HR from problems caused by bad choices made by the hiring managers. I can think of at least a third area to be held accountable – even if HR and each area do their jobs well, if the salaries are too low because of budget limitations, then the performance metrics that should suffer should be from the financial department or the top management’s (or nobody’s, if it is a contingency that couldn t be solved internally).

  6. Evil –

    Ah yes, the old responsibility vs. authority problem. It’s real, but based on your online persona, I can’t imagine you ever being a victim to this limitation all of us HR types face.

    My take is that you would be among the best at influencing and directing without true authority, as evidenced in your conversation with your boss that you outline.

    You know the one – the one where he had all the authority and all you had was your ability to influence? You walked away with a goal that was realistic, but only about 1/4 as strong as the authority holder orginally wanted… 🙂


  7. I feel your pain! My last payroll job before law school was a perfect example of being forced to shoulder responsibility for things I had no authority over.

    The Plant Manager demanded all the timesheets entered and processed on time so that he could manually go through each entry on the report. And he wanted every paycheck to be processed through ADP without any extra payroll runs or manual checks.

    But I had no power to compel supervisors to turn in timesheets. The Plant Manager relegated the report reading to the bottom of his list, rarely giving me much time to send payroll through, especially if he wanted something changed. If ADP made a mistake, it was my fault even though I was given no authority to do anything but submit payroll—no power to negotiate, no input on what services we actually needed as opposed to wastes of money, and no power to even ask for an assistant to be added to ADP.

    There’s a lot more, but why dwell on the negatives? There’s a happy ending, after all. I got into a good law school (with a nice scholarship so I could actually afford to go!) and turn in my two weeks’ notice.

  8. well done, evil HR lady! it’s inspired me to try this at home! (well, i mean at work, of course.)

    here’s the latest conversation i had around this topic:

    grand-boss: where’s this project that you’re working on voluntarily?

    me: it’s with “guy two levels up and three departments over” who reports to you.

    grand-boss: i keep hearing “this week” and then “next week” and then “next week” again. what’s the problem?

    me: he doesn’t know how to do it.

    boss: don’t use that as an excuse! you should follow-up!

    me: yeah. see? that’s the thing. i have. every day. for a month. i finally figured banging my head against a brick wall was a dumb thing to do. also, i have no authority over “man two levels up and three departments over” and plus….i’m a girl. he’s not listening, so i stopped talking. i kind of figured that since he’s two levels up and all that, he should be able to be responsible for his work. i don’t know though. maybe i’m wrong.

    well, okay. maybe the conversation didn’t go exactly like that. it went like that in my head though.

    all the best!

  9. Deb

    First I’m so proud of you. And second, you always write the conversation how it should have gone–not how it necessarily did!

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