Bernadette Martin on What It Takes to Become a Great HR Business Partner

It is critical that HR builds a relationship with their business

This article is part of my series of articles on what it takes to become a great HR business partner. Read more articles in this series.

What does it mean to be an HR Business Partner today?

Bernadette:  As an HRBP, my role involves working in collaboration across the HR organisation to enable delivery of key strategic priorities for the business.

What aspects of your work are strategic?

Bernadette:  There are a few areas.

First, consulting which focuses primarily on organisational design and effectiveness as well as talent management and employee engagement.

Second, my partnership with the business which I see as including coaching leadership.

Third, being a champion of strong customer service so that we can provide simple yet practical solutions to various business challenges. Last, the ability to lead the organisation through change.

How have you brought greater strategic input into your deliverables?

Bernadette :  This can only be done by firstly understanding the business needs and then, synergising it with the organisation’s requirements. You’ve also got to be the kind of partner who helps resolve issues and adds value rather than just saying “No” or just doing what you’re told to do!

What are the key aspects of being a great HR business partner?

Bernadette : Building effective relationships in the workplace and being a team player.

What have you done to develop a deeper understanding of the business you are in?

Bernadette :  Having calls or catch-up sessions with leaders and the team as regularly as possible.

What are some critical communication challenges you have faced and how did you overcome these?

Bernadette :   This has certainly been one of my main challenges in the current role because in the past, I’ve always had the pleasure of just walking over to someone to clarify or discuss a matter. Being in a regional role definitely has its challenges.

I find myself limited to email most of the time but if there is a need, I will pick up the phone and make the call. So far, I must say it has worked well.

How do you balance the need to take charge and question legacy systems versus following organisational vision?

Bernadette :  I believe ‘action speaks louder than words’. So, if there is a need to take charge or even to question legacy practices etc, your track record should speak for itself because there is already an element of trust present. You need to also have a certain degree of confidence when you’re working to make changes and you need to be strong enough to follow through on it.

At the same time, I know that it also depends on the party you are presenting to. They too must want the change and have an open mind in order for things to happen.

How do you measure the success of your HR initiatives against business results?

Bernadette :  Unfortunately, in my current role, we do not have any way to do that. However, in my previous organisations, we did have a scorecard to measure HR’s success.

What is the biggest myth about being a great business partner?

Bernadette :  Some organisations tend to use the HRBP more as administrators.

How do you get invited into critical conversations?

Bernadette :  By building that relationship with the business and making sure that what you say contributes to the betterment of their needs.

Is financial literacy key to you becoming more relevant to the business? If so, how?

Bernadette :  I believe that it’s important to understand the financials in a business. The present-day HR professional needs to be involved in the financial aspects of their business.

What has been key to you building better relationships across the organisation?

Bernadette :  In all my years as an HRBP, I have practised being honest, practical and treating whoever I speak to with respect and integrity. For me, the most important part of being an HRBP is  having a good relationship with the business. When that happens, everything falls into place.

How have you seen that it is best to structure HR to provide support to the organisation?

Bernadette : The most efficient way of organising the structure of an HR team is to have units where each specialise in key HR functions. Ideally, this includes Talent Acquisition, HR Business Partnering, Employee Relations, Compensation & Benefits, Learning & Development as well as Shared Services (Payroll & Administration).

How do you review how well HR is currently meeting its needs?

Bernadette : By the way we are involved with the organisation’s growth.

What have you learnt so far about how to get the right people into the right roles?

Bernadette : From the experiences that I’ve had, qualifications are a ‘nice to have’ but possessing the right attitude is crucial because  while skills can be acquired, a person’s attitude cannot be changed.


Bernadette A MartinBernadette A Martin has extensive experience in global talent management, succession planning, organisational development, change management and executive coaching. Currently, she is the Regional Strategic HR Manager APAC, Japan and India at NCR Corporation. She is the Strategic HR Business Partner and Adviser to the leadership team for the Global Services organisation which cuts across 15 countries in the APAC, Japan and India region.

Formerly Head of HR, Banking Operations & Engineering at Standard Chartered Global Business Services and prior to that, Head of HR Business Partners & Talent Acquisition at T Systems Malaysia, Bernadette has strong exposure in IT services, broadcasting, oil & gas as well as manufacturing. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Studies from Charles Sturt University and a Diploma in Human Resources Management.


This article is part of my series of articles on what it takes to become a great HR business partner. Read more articles in this series.

Vertical Distinct offers the Strategic HR Business Partner certification, a three day HCI offering that helps you build credibility as an HR leader that influences, impacts and advances your business and your career. Find out more about the SHRBP course programme, scheduled dates and cities where you can register.

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