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Deborah Wilkes

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How can HR business partners build their true business edge?

Discover how to uplift your HR business partnering approach and offer greater business value.
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For HR business partnering to fulfil its potential, there’s still work to do on the ‘business’ element. Why is it so hard for HR people to become credible as business leaders? Many HR Business Partners have a real instinct for what’s good for business, but an upgrade is still required.

Talent is the key differentiator and game-changer for businesses to win and sustain success

HR people have always known this, and business leaders are finally getting it. The ‘Great Resignation’ is real, and talented employees are voting with their feet against employers who treat them as commodities. This gives HR people who partner with the business – whatever their job title – the launch pad for effective talent approaches that will deliver real value.

Business leaders just look stupid when they make blanket statements that assume that everyone will comply

Shalini Chopra is head of HR who previously led global operations: “It isn’t about HR projects anymore – it’s talent projects that are co-created with business leaders and executed by HR.”

HR has a unique role to play in navigating the new climate of employee power and managing the associated risks. Asad Husain, CHRO four times, advises: “Co-create, talk to employees – consultation has to go to the individual level, HR need a deeper understanding of the workforce, listen, involve them. Business leaders just look stupid when they make blanket statements that assume that everyone will comply.”

Put business outcomes at the heart of HR

Does this rebalancing of power for employees help to build HR’s credibility? It can, when HR focus on business outcomes. “The shift in thinking comes when you start from a different place. You could call it reverse engineering,’ explains Asad. “Start from the outcomes the business needs and work back from there.”

Tough business thinking doesn’t come naturally to HR people. They wouldn’t be well-equipped for the job if their core motivation was hard numbers. However, we can help HR Business Partners to reframe their purpose – and build the numbers to prove it. There is a virtuous circle – if it’s good for people, it’s good for business, and vice versa.  

How can HR Business Partners build their business acumen – and demonstrate it?

Although it’s a good place to start, understanding your organisation means far more than getting to grips with spreadsheets. It demands generous curiosity and learning from key stakeholders and how they see their part of the business – and how they see talent. Getting under the skin of what drives success, operationally and strategically, inside and outside the organisation, makes it easier to make strong links between talent inputs and business outcomes.

HR people tend to come to business leaders with HR themes and HR language. This must change. “That makes them believe that HR does not understand business,” says Shalini.

For a business leader, talent has to be analysed as a resource or operational input. Their world is driven by numbers, columns on spreadsheets that need to be analysed objectively – right talent, right place, right time – so that’s what HR has to deliver. 

Do your own analysis, starting with the business outcomes and working back so that you can prove the value of what you do in HR

Making clear connections between human and business outcomes is a core challenge

Employee care can no longer be separated from business care,” says Shalini. Often this connection is so obvious to HR people that they overlook the importance of stating it clearly: ‘How you acquire, allocate, develop, deploy and retain talent is as significant to company success as deploying the right funds to the right business priorities.’ That’s what HR has to prove and quantify.

However, Asad says: This is a tough job. It’s a more skilled job now than ever before. People who said: ‘I love working with people’ now need to become business leaders.”

HR people need to provide clear links between people inputs and business outcomes – and this demands a level of proficiency that doesn’t come naturally to many. However, calculating the real costs and business risk of attrition isn’t too difficult and can have a massive impact on discussions, say, about culture.

If you haven’t got it, you can’t give it

To convince others, you have first to be convinced yourself. Do your own analysis, starting with the business outcomes and working back so that you can prove the value of what you do in HR. “Don’t act on what you want to do before you’ve defined the need,” advises Asad. “That’s the skill that the BP needs – and the function must understand that and be led by that. We’re here to serve the business – with what, and why? Then you can get to design and delivery.

“When the business leader says ‘you don’t understand what I want’ – you’ve done design and deliver, but missed out the define – and so you’re spinning your wheels.’ You have no idea how it will impact the business strategy.”

So that takes us back to the start point – a deep understanding of how the organisation works, what drives success, and then how that relates to the required performance of the people within it. That has to start at the top.

The role of the CHRO is critical – they must lead this

“In the boardroom, you are there to look at the business as a whole, ask business questions, and at some point, they will link with talent and people care,” says Shalini. “So you’re not at the table with the HR jargon, you are there with the viewpoint of the business as a whole. “You must be able to predict the talent and link the talent to the numbers, that’s when the CEO and other stakeholders are listening.”

Asad agrees: “The whole function needs to be business-savvy and to partner – and if they don’t all do it then they’re not realising what their role is. Don’t get into your own HR world – focus on where the business is going and upgrade the whole function.”

The value of the HR Business Partner role has to be clear upfront

When the CHRO creates clarity for the HR Business Partner, they will be able to define projects that will add demonstrable business impact: “Thus nothing will happen in silos, says Shalini. “Neither the definition of strategy or projects nor the execution of those projects.

How will the HR Business Partner be measured? How often is this question asked? To what extent are the HR Business Partner’s KPIs integrated with those of the business? Involving all stakeholders in answering these questions builds clarity and ownership for everyone.

The world of work has changed forever, and therefore so must our pivotal HR roles

There is huge potential for organisations to win demonstrable results from a great HR Business Partner, so we need to know what they need from the role. We find, when working with our clients, that becoming clear about this can prove to be a surprisingly long conversation – there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and stakeholders in the same organisation often have different perspectives. 

A fresh approach to HR Business Partner capabilities

The world of work has changed forever, and therefore so must our pivotal HR roles. Being business-savvy is a vital thread throughout our new HR Business Partnering programmes. Our research led us to five new capabilities that will ensure HR Business Partners deliver measurable results:

Everyone in HR must see themselves as a partner in business

As Asad says: “The whole function needs to be business-savvy and to partner, and if they don’t all do it then they’re not realising what their role is – don’t get into your own HR world – focus on where the business is going and upgrade the whole function.”

Register for our upcoming webinar which looks at this challenge at the top level: ‘How to achieve an awesome CEO/CHRO relationship’ – 21 July at 14.00 UK/ 15.00CET/ 09.00EST: https://enablehr.clickmeeting.com/how-to-create-an-awesome-ceo-chro-partnership/register.

Our new Business Partnering programmes recognise the new demands of the role. For more information and to register your interest visit:
https://www.subscribepage.com/business_partnering_programme_enable_hr and if you would like to get in touch with Deborah email [email protected] or visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahwilkes/.

Interested in this topic? Read What does a great HR business partner look like?

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