Suvorova & Partners / Executive search in Russia and CIS.
Harvard Business Review, Russian issue
January 2005

Situation: It Is Either Us or Her!

Alexey Belkin, General Manager of the Romashka cafe chain, hired Tatiana Novikova, a Human Resources Manager to set up and manage a Human Resources Department. Two months later the company's top managers ask him to fire her. They say that if she is not fired, they will leave the company.

Comments by Olga Suvorova, Managing Partner of Suvorova & Partners, an Executive Search company:

This situation is quite common, especially for the companies that hire HR Managers for the first time. Obviously, Alexey Belkin did not prepare his team for the appearance of a new manager properly. On one hand, they were waiting for an HR Manager to join the company, but on the other hand, few of them realized what exactly this person would be responsible for and authorized to do. Tatiana's situation was hard as well. She had not worked in the restaurant business before, so she was not aware of the situation on this market, the qualifications of the company staff, and their unique roles in the business. The General Manager should have informed Tatiana about the peculiarities of this business as well as about the current situation in the company. Tatiana made a huge mistake also, as she did not treat the staff with enough respect.

However paradoxical it may seem, top manager's loyalty to the shareholders and their desire to fulfill the tasks effectively and quickly often brings unfortunate results. That is what happened to Tatiana. She was too straight-forward and harsh. She should have analyzed the situation, talked to her colleagues, found out what roles they play in this business and what they expect from the HR department. She could have formed a good relationship with the Company's management and won their respect. In this case, her first steps would have found a warmer response among her colleagues. It's absolutely crucial to do preparatory work before the introduction of unpopular measures. In Russian private companies, it is very important to gain the owner's support of these measures and demonstrate it to the staff.

As they did not fully understand the HR Manager's role, the key managers of the company did not realize that they were also a part of the personnel Tatiana was in charge of. They were right when they informed Belkin that Tatiana did not treat them with enough respect, but they should not have given him the ultimatum to choose between them and Tatiana. They should have helped Tatiana adapt to the new business environment when she joined the company.

However, the episode with Tatiana revealed the situation in the company that existed before she was hired. Top managers of Romashka think that they are stars and the company's business will collapse without them. A solid team is undoubtedly one of the key success factors in any business, but their ultimatum looks like a test. If they win it and force Belkin fire Tatiana, then they will make it a rule to dictate their wishes and make vital decisions according to their will, not the needs of the business. Alexey Belkin's reaction to the situation shows that he is an experienced and mature manager. It was a good idea to take a time-out, thus he won valuable time and weakened the position of his top managers.

Taking into account the fact that Tatiana has been working in the company for only two months, I recommend that the General Manager starts from the beginning by explaining to Tatiana that it is part of the company's corporate culture to respect the employees. At the same time, he has to discuss with the top managers the functions of the HR Manager and enforce the implementation of HR policies in the company. It is necessary to create a talent pool in order to secure the business and make it less dependent on certain individual employees. Perhaps Tatiana will not stay in the company for long, or maybe some of the top managers will leave, but there should be people in the talent pool to replace them.

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