Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

The Challenges of being an HR BP!

Last year at Elephant we started the HR Business Partner Summit. This was designed to bring together people in HRBP roles or those working towards an HRBP role to:

  • discuss what HR Business Partnering is
  • share the latest thinking, research, ideas and tools and techniques to be able to deliver as a business partner
  • network and share ideas with other HRBP’s.

We know that HR Business Partnering is different from being an HR Advisor or HR Consultant. In those roles you are advising managers or the business on HR policy and process, or tools and techniques to solve issues. HR Business Partnering on the other hand is about working with management or exec team as a partner:

  • assisting them with their people strategy (and ensuring this feeds into the overall people strategy)
  • coaching and challenging them on their thinking
  • managing initiatives and projects to deliver to the people strategy and
  • reporting on the people balance sheet and ROI of what you deliver

Our second Summit on Thursday last week started with a panel discussion about the challenges of being an HR Business Partner. We had David D’Souza, Head of CIPD London (who video-linked in from Bruges), Susan Lowe, GM HR at Repco, Orlaith Gadsden from Kiwibank and Fiona Michel, Chief of People and Capability at Auckland DHB.

A spirited discussion took place with 90 minutes whipping by and I wanted to share some of the key thoughts that came out!

HRBP David

David talked about HRBP’s challenge of not reporting what was really happening in the business. He discussed needing to utilise metrics and analytics far more. We create the people balance sheet for a business and need to report on this so our exec teams have visibility over what’s happening. David also talked about the challenge of moving away from silo BP’s (e.g. for HR, Finance, IT) and having one BP that sits across all disciplines. This of course means upskilling yourself on other business functions. The quote I love from David was when he said:

“If you do business partnering well, they won’t be able to live without you”.

HRBP panel

Susan then talked about the skills needed to be a great business partner including being commercially savvy, demonstrating HR leadership and business skills, being an influencer and being self-aware of what you’re doing well and what needs to change. Business partnering is about coaching and challenging your management and exec teams and thinking strategically and if you haven’t developed those skills, it will be tough.

Orlaith had found there was far more information and research about being a Finance BP than there is about being an HRBP which is interesting (and perhaps we can change this sharing information from the Summit). The challenge she talked about is where do you start? She shared a great model of what to focus on depending on the level of business demand for HR business partnering and the level of HR capability.

HRBP model

Fiona Michel had the room in stitches, and she talked about whether you should be an HRBP or not. Many HR people are fantastic Senior HR Advisors or Consultants – where they do transactional HR, love helping managers with tactical issues and managers love them helping. This is not the attitude or skill set that’s needed for business partnering, where you’re not doing the transactional anymore. So the first challenge is whether you’re suited to it. She also talked about whether your business really wants you to be an HRBP and if not, maybe it’s not the right place for you.

She talked about the challenge of ROI and shared that she puts together a one page of the true cost of HR, and then everything HR is planning to deliver and what ROI this will create and asks her exec team which of the list they want. She discussed being aware of how much time your HR initiatives will take managers – and how much they will add. They have to add 3 times the amount of time they take to complete.

The last issues that came out in the discussion is how you balance operational and strategic, as in many NZ companies the HR team is too small for the HRBP’s to not have to do any transactional work. I liked Orlaith’s example of that if you’re working in the weeds, but you think strategically of what you’re trying to achieve in the sky, then even though some of your work will be operational, it’s still feeding into strategy. Susan talked about looking at your model and seeing what your managers can take over doing. And Fiona talked cake. She said for many of us our BAU is a cake with a very thin layer of strategic icing. She recommended making it cupcakes. Every month, or quarter, book 1 – 2 days where you go off site and focus on strategy only. That way you feel connected with what you are trying to do and how it fits the people strategy and you don’t lose motivation from being stuck in the operational.

So how do you get the balance of being an HRBP right? Here are the key questions I took from the session:

  1. Are you using people analytics to really show what’s happening in the business?
  2. Are you putting aside a half day or full day every month or three for strategy?
  3. Are you cutting down silo’s by asking ‘business’ questions, not just ‘HR’ questions of the managers and execs that you partner with?
  4. Are you delegating some of the operational work to managers or others in the HR team?
  5. Are you putting aside time to develop your commercial skills? Debbie from F&P Finance shared that she’s asked her CFO to give her some training on the P&L and he now does a pop quiz for her each week to test her! How are you developing your skills?

Being an HR BP is challenging. It’s not a role that some of us are cut out for if we’re good at being an HR Advisor, and many businesses don’t want us to be an HRBP. But there are ways to balance and overcome these challenges – however you must have a plan in place. If you haven’t thought through the above – why not put a couple of hours aside right now, go and book yourself a meeting room and get your HRBP cupcake on?


Angela Atkins stopped working in HR last year, but is still supporting HR people’s professional development by organising conferences for Elephant and helping with the L&D arm of the Association of People Professionals. She is a Director of and and the best-selling author of Management Bites, Employment Bites and Training Bites – with Safety Bites due out shortly.



One comment on “The Challenges of being an HR BP!

  1. Pingback: The Challenges of being an HR BP! | hrmanagementbites – insideHR

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This entry was posted on March 13, 2016 by in HR Business Partnering, human resources and tagged , , , , , .
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