Role Of The HR Business Partner

We live and have been living in a world where business needs keep changing, consumer’s wants are never ending, technology is evolving daily and people are extremely dynamic. One force that cuts across all of the mayhem is the HR department. HR has been evolving over the years. We have been hearing for some time now about Strategic HR and the need for the HRBP role. But clearly a lot more needs to be done, until we have a permanent seat in the boardroom. In very few organizations, HRBPs are actually playing the key role they are meant to play. In most places they end up being compliance oriented and paper pushers.

The need for HR to align with business has become more critical now that ever. Financial markets keep changing, consumers keep pressing for new and innovative products, management insists on cost efficiency, attrition is at its peak, brain drain, and demographic divide all affect the HR function. Yet in many places HR has failed to keep up and be on the top of the ever evolving growth story.

What is the cause for this? Is it that Business does not perceive HR in the strategic light we wished to be seen in? Is it that we do not understand business and hence cannot contribute? Is it that we are happy with playing the role of a school teacher and ensuring discipline, compliance and recruitments? If we truly wish to be seen as a partner, rather than a support staff, we need to start getting our own house in order.

Instead of straight away diving into the pool and ensuring what business is well versed in HR jargons like competency mapping, career planning, succession planning etc., the basic and most important question to be asked is ‘What will help and what will obstruct?’ ‘What is cause friction and what will ensure flow?’, ‘What is good to have, what is needed and what is absolutely important?’ The answers to these questions will help us in paving the road that lies ahead. Very often, we wish to use big words that we have learnt in B-school and try and create a whole lot of HR interventions, some of which are not needed, some of which have already been done and some of which are too premature. Rather let us learn to ask simple questions that may at times seem stupid, but provide thought provoking answers.

To be true business partners, we need to find those areas in business where strategy fails or succeeds and accordingly provide talent solutions. Instead of just managing routine HR talent issues, we need to jump into the middle of the playground, get a broad eye view of what is happening and provide talent outcomes that will help the business succeed.

The foundation of an HR Business Partner role lies in building your credibility with the business. And this credibility can be built by understanding your business and having a sound financial know-how. We should be able to talk their language, ‘if you do it this way, I can help improve productivity / profit by so much.’ We need to have a commercial understanding of the way business is done.

This is needed in order to identify what are the real business needs vis-à-vis and artificially created HR interventions that we so often roll out. Let’s take for e.g., are we lacking behind in product innovation? Do we need to foster innovation and creativity into our business that is stinking of stagnation and rigidity? Then focus on what as an HR partner you can do to bring about such innovation. Could you provide a solution through structured learning opportunities, focus group discussions, and recognition awards for Idea of the Quarter? Could you suggest open sessions with customers to understand their needs? Could you as an HR partner, facilitate interdepartmental meetings to brainstorm. The idea it to first understand the need and then only offer a bouquet of solutions. IT does it. It first understands the need and then comes back with a list of alternative solutions. The neighborhood restaurant does it too. When Business sees how you have added value as an HR Partner, not only is your credibility built, but you will be seen as strategic and will be called to business meetings in the future.

Can we as HR Partners, anticipate business needs and be ready with talent proof solutions. This will require analysis and some bit of homework on our part. But it will ensure a ready pipeline, of fully trained and motivated talent waiting to grab new opportunities the as they come. It is important as an HR partner, to capture not only employee potential but be in sync with aspirations of your employees, so that when a new project comes up, we are immediately able to suggest the best fit.

But very rarely do we follow this. We generally set for ourselves certain key goals that needed to be followed and believe we are playing a strategic role. Merely covering 80% of your workforce with a training program and an outbound activity in a year does not help. Rather covering 40% of those guys in areas which are vital for them to build their skills will add more value to the business.

Similarly covering every employee with the same set of HR interventions is pointless. While each role is important, not all roles are critical and strategic. We need to identify critical roles and critical people and have a better focus on them. At any point in time, we should be able to have a list of the top 10% of critical roles and people. What is it the HR is doing to help develop them? A one size fits all leadership development session or career identification program will not help. While the equality mentality is good and should be respected, as an HR Partner it is important to know who are your winners, support players and find ways to meet the needs of both groups without compromising on any.

If we are to take the role of the HR Business Partner seriously, we need to take a keen interest in the way our business is run, visit the market with our employees, see the way things happen on the ground, do a SWOT analysis of our business. There in, lies the answer to a whole host of Talent Solutions waiting to be provided to business which will, in turn, the friction into flow.

To sum up, it is not the number of HR interventions that we roll out that is important, rather as a partner we need to understand the need of our fellow partner and provide relevant talent solutions accordingly. Only then will it be a Win-Win partnership.



brinelle (1)

The author is an alumna of Goa Institute of Management and currently working with Citi Bank as an HR Generalist. She has also worked with The Times Group.



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