Cindy Saunders on What It Takes to Become a Great HR Business Partner

Cindy Saunders shares, “There is strong accountability for the HRBP to help guide the organisation to shape its narrative by challenging legacy modes of thinking and acting.”

What do you think it means to be an HR Business Partner today?

Cindy: In contrast to the more transactional and tactical role of traditional HR, the HR Business Partner (HRBP) has evolved over the past decade as a commercially focused business partner. The HRBP delivers vision and strategy, focuses on values and behaviour, succession planning, learning and development, employee engagement, organisational design and resource planning across the business. At all junctures, the needs of the business and the talent solutions required to meet those needs drives the HRBP function.

The role varies widely between companies.

In larger corporations, the HRBP could support hundreds or thousands of employees and managers in a single function such as Finance or IT. In a smaller company, the HRBP might support several functions with fewer managers and employees. Some companies transitioning into the role may use the HRBP in more of an HR Generalist role or a hybrid. It is diverse and evolving.

Do you believe that financial literacy is key to you becoming more relevant to the business? If so, how?

Cindy: Yes, it is absolutely key to understanding the needs of the business. The direction and structure of the business inform every aspect of the workforce and the subsequent impact on the short and long-term goals of the business.

We must use our financial understanding to communicate Human Resources in the language of the business – it is our job to convey how our people solutions translate to the bottom line – human resources impacting financial resources.

We become more relevant to the business when we understand what is occurring in the finances and how it connects to the talent.

Where is the talent costing us money?
How it is impacting revenue and expenses?
What metrics are we using to measure financial results?

This is powerful information necessary for data-driven decisions.

What aspects of your work do you consider to be most strategic?

Cindy: Talent – identifying and creating an environment that attracts the appropriate talent for the business and inviting candidates into the company through diverse methods and branding. Further, it also includes developing, sustaining and retaining that talent through multiple initiatives.

Alignment – working with employee groups and leadership, we uncover people issues that are obstacles to the mission of the business. We analyse, provide insight and guidance to redirect strategy and equip the business accordingly. We use the priorities of the business to design people strategies that can become a template for success.

Support – identifying trust vulnerabilities in the organisation and developing strategies to mitigate or repair those weaknesses. The HRBP’s awareness of organisational behaviour provides unique viewpoints. This “behaviour acumen” can reveal nuances that may be strategically navigated or avoided altogether. Strengthening a culture of collaboration is part of building support. Because the HRBP is involved in numerous aspects of the business, the collaborative approach is embedded throughout their interactions.

Communication – effectively communicating across the entire organisation on an array of subjects. It is critical to relay information up to leadership as well as pass high-level decisions downward. The modes of communication and the manner in which messages are crafted are vital. Taking a strategic and innovative approach to communication is central to an optimal outcome.

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

Cindy:  Establishing trust and credibility, in that order. The HRBP interacts across the business and is often privy to confidential matters. We find ourselves in situations requiring considerable discretion and frequently act as a consultant with various clients.

The ability to sustain consistency at all levels is essential. This position has the opportunity to foster trust into multiple layers of the organisation by modelling the values of trust and integrity. Credibility follows as trust is progressively embedded in relationships and as solutions offered consistently become answers.

If we build strong alliances within the business, collaborate to define what the business needs and design talent solutions to address those needs, we’re on our way.

How do you balance the need to take charge yet courageous enough to question legacy systems and ways of thinking?

Cindy:  Any growing business will provide an opportunity for change. As you understand the direction and needs of the business, you must decide how, when and where you can bring innovation to the table. From your unique vantage point, you will have many opportunities to impact business outcomes.

To not rise to this challenge is playing small.

You must have the courage to speak and wisdom to distinguish when the time is appropriate. If you aspire to provide strong leadership in this role, you need to challenge the status quo and provide thoughtful insight and perspective. There is strong accountability for the HRBP to help guide the organisation to shape its narrative by challenging legacy modes of thinking and acting. This won’t always be comfortable but you need to be willing to fulfil this aspect of your role as needed.

What do you consider to be the key aspect of being a great HR business partner?

Cindy: I believe a great HRBP ultimately delivers an optimised workforce to the business. Optimised at every point – productive, profitable, engaged, talented, connected, innovative … the list is endless.

If we build strong alliances within the business, collaborate to define what the business needs and design talent solutions to address those needs, we’re on our way. If at the same time we challenge ourselves to master our profession, get ego out of our way and rise up to lead, we’re making even more progress.

Most importantly, while employing all our best strategic and business acumen, if we want to truly experience a level of “great” in this role, we must challenge ourselves to be a watchful steward of the human factor within the business.  I believe this stewardship is the guiding principle of the HRBP role.

Cindy Saunders Cindy Saunders is an HR Professional with over twenty years’ experience working in manufacturing, mining, finance and staffing industries. Currently, she is an HR Business Partner for a global technology company. Cindy recently earned her Strategic Human Resources Business Partner (sHRBP) certification and holds designations as Global Professional Human Resources (GPHR), Senior Professional Human Resources (SPHR) and SHRM-CP Senior Certified Professional. Her leadership style is characterised by her drive to develop informed and engaged work environments. Cindy considers strong and authentic leadership throughout an organisation as an essential key to success.

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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