HR business partnering not done well- a kiss of death for HR!

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HR Business Partnering is the development of successful, long-term strategic relationships between customers and suppliers, based on achieving best practices and sustainable competitive advantage.

Phew! That is quite complex with usage of quite a few heavy words. We need to make it simple for next generation of HR professionals to understand and apply it. Clearly, an enabling function unable to deliver definitive value or be a reason for core competence has no reason to exist- eliminate or outsource. In view of this, I have broken down the title “Human Resource Business Partner” and explained our role that will be a source of respect for our function:

Create a HUMAN culture

An ideal culture from a business perspective should consist of accountability, ownership, result orientation and process-adherence etc. To this, we add the “human” touch of openness, transparency, flexibility, respect & trust.

“Organization culture is curated by HR and business basis a fair understanding of what the organization wants to achieve- sum of ideas, customs, social behavior, artifacts, and rituals”

Research says that companies with strong cultures witnessed 4x increase in revenue growth. However, in the wake of achieving revenues and profitability, managing selling expenses, reducing freight and over dues, it becomes second priority as we live to make the present happen! This is evident in Deloitte’s research that suggests that only 12% of executives believe that their companies are driving the right culture. This is where HRBP takes the lead. HR needs to work with business leader to deliver a consistent experience.

Taking out a recurring leaf out of my book of experiences to share as an example here. It is common for every organization to call out need for performance-driven culture. However, making that happen is a tough ask. An attempt at it may portray adulation-hungry leaders (to avoid “lonely at the top!”) as aggressive, demanding, which changes their course of action.

Poor results demand open and transparent feedback. However, failure to have an honest conversation leads to pulling down that employee’s worth in various meetings, finally leading to sheepish-cowardice decision by the manager to ask the employee to move on by sighting HR as a reason for bell-curving etc. This is where we enable the business to display organization’s culture in right light. Intent of all organizations is to provide opportunities to employees to develop and grow. In times of poor performance, more so. Ensure that the leader has an honest conversation with the employee, pulls together a time-bound development plan, and dedicates time & energy to help the employee flourish. At the end, make a decision that is a win-win for the organization and the employee.

Have the art of understanding your RESOURCES

For an HRBP, key resources may count as your own functional skill-set, employees, training modules, workshops, and people processes etc. Depending upon the organization and its vision, it is important for you to leverage resources. Somehow, everybody from a secretary to CEO seems to know HR more than HRBP. It is assumed to be about people and people are known to all. HR’s expertise is what counts in such situations. Your hold on organization structures, design principles, change management principles, LTIP types and benefits, employee connect etc adds credibility to your job. Earn it! For an organization focused on building a strong employer brand, its employees and people practices provide a competitive advantage that builds a differentiated value proposition.

Another leaf from my book of experiences. I have observed functional leaders take offense when I have guided them on building their team structure. They have a strong belief that they have a hold on their team, understand their motivations and have functional knowledge. In light of this, they believe HR partnering is not needed to build a robust structure. Further, this builds a strong bias that HR has the expertise to manage hire-fire processes. At such times, HR’s grasp on Organization design processes comes handy! To start with, structures are not about people. Structures are about goals& purpose (job family & specialization), interactions & coordination (reporting relationships, functional vs business reporting, direct vs matrix reporting), authority, responsibility & decision-making (hierarchy, layers), efficiency & productivity (spans of control). This level of understanding on each of our subjects ensures trust of business. As HR professionals it is our responsibility to display our subject expertise by adding science to some critical subjects.

Convert BUSINESS issues into people opportunities

Business issues could range from slow top line growth to high selling expenses to low profits to overdues to low customer connect etc. It is imperative for HR to understand organization P&L, Balance sheet, cash flows and month on month movement of important KPIs. This is the point where we need to draw connects between business/KPIs and people. This is where long-term strategic intent comes to play. Business understanding helps shape the people agenda.

I look back at my book of experiences and recall the service review that I attended. It gives me insights into business, helps me understand critical KPIs and their progress. In cases where I witnessed business KPIs slowing down, I tried to understand reasons. Now after building all this appreciation, work for HRBP starts. Reasons may vary from process lags to delivery constraints to capability gaps to accountability issues. HRBP should engage in understanding the as-is state and work with the team to propose a to-be state by leveraging resources. Depending upon the issue, HRBP and business may work together to provide solutions ranging from fixing accountability, role enhancement, managing redundancies, process-redesign, trainings etc. Once the solution is reached, HRBP’s role in this review is over. Prior to this, it is all just good to know!

PARTNER with the ecosystem to deliver results

In my interactions, HRs ecosystem is assumed to be limited to employees. I differ! It starts and ends with employees. However, to make that meaningful, HR’s ecosystem must include customers, HR peers across other organizations, prospective talent in the market, CoE teams, functional teams etc.

I had a recent travel to one of our large cities and met 3 customers. Meeting customers/consumers is a very humbling moment for me. It builds empathy for other functions and ensures I collaborate well with them. Our biases shaped over years of experience- sales is not process-oriented, service is not customer-oriented, projects does not take accountability, are broken. Obviously, such travel leads to getting hold of market realities as well. If a business partner is well aware of market realities, he/she earns the trust of employees.

If we bring together these 4 goals, organization’s trust in HR improves. It also gives confidence to us that HR is an expertise function. It is not an operational role managing hire to retire life cycle of an employee.

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Smriti Handa- Head HR, Health Systems & Emerging Businesses, Philips. She has an overall experience of 15 years in various facets of HR. In her current role she is focusing on changing the talent landscape at Philips by building a diverse, inclusive & young organization. Prior to joining Philips, she was working with Bharti Airtel as Head- Talent Acquisition & Campus Engagement. She has been an instrumental part of many transformational projects including Shared Services set-up, Management Trainee Program overhaul, ePMS launch etc. And under her leadership, Airtel has explored newer channels of recruitment with special focus on social recruiting and employer branding along with completely overhauling its much coveted ‘Young Leaders’ program.

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