Gladys de Silva on What It Takes to Become a Great HR Business Partner
“An organisation’s ability to attract, hire and retain top talent is the most critical aspect of its business survival.”
What does it mean to be an HR Business Partner?
Gladys: An HR Business Partner (HRBP) works strategically with an organisation’s senior leadership team to develop strategies and ensure alignment with the overall business strategy. He/she should ideally be a certified HR practitioner with skillsets in all areas of HR i.e. Recruitment & Selection, Compensation & Benefits, Training & Development, Health & Safety, Employee Relations & Organisational Behaviour.
Apart from knowing the fundamentals of HR, an HRBP should have three key elements to succeed:
- strong business acumen;
- excellent communication skills; and
- able to provide innovative ideas.
Is there a significant portion of your typical HR transactional work that is outsourced? Were you involved in that decision? If so, how did you successfully put your case forward for outsourcing?
Gladys: Being a strategic partner, I look for ways to compress costs and improve profitability.
For instance, while I was working for a small to mid-sized business (SME), I discovered that payroll was outsourced to an external provider for a headcount of 40. As I found the staff volume too low to warrant outsourcing, I decided to purchase Sage UBS software and perform the payroll processing internally.
On the other hand, when I was attached to a large German automaker some years ago, the transactional processes of payroll and recruiting were outsourced to enable HRBPs to concentrate on more strategic aspects of the business.
I think it’s essential for HRBPs to know the business first before proposing changes.
What aspects of your work do you consider strategic?
Gladys: I have previously partnered with key executives to lead transformation initiatives by rebuilding the HR department through the development of policies, programmes and procedures aligned with the overall business strategy. I think it’s essential for HRBPs to know the business first before proposing changes.
For this reason, when I recently joined a digital advertising firm as the Global Head of HR, I conducted one-on-one chats with line managers, business leaders and basically, all employees from the APAC and EMEA regions. I did this to better understand the organisation’s needs before making recommendations.
What are the key aspects of being a great HR business partner?
Gladys: Having had a combination of HR and marketing experience, I tend to be friendlier in my approach when dealing with my stakeholders. I find this approach works better as people feel more relaxed to share their concerns. In that way, I am able to offer better solutions.
I am also a firm believer in continuous learning and engagement. I constantly keep up with the nuances of technology to find innovative ways of doing things especially with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in HR.
What are some critical communication challenges you faced and how did you overcome these?
Gladys: It is well-known that companies which have more transparent communication have higher loyalty and retention rates as employees are more engaged and productive. Therefore, it is important to encourage business leaders to always share critical information during discussions, meetings or town halls so as not to keep employees in the dark and to develop a positive work environment.
How do you balance the need to take charge yet question legacy systems and ways of thinking?
Gladys: Change is imminent and if an organisation is looking to progress, they should always look for new and innovative ways of doing things.
If they are stuck in their old ways, they may face the brunt of losing their competitive edge and ability to meet the ever-changing needs of customers. However, in order for change to succeed, the right leadership and buy-in from the executive team are required to unify the organisation to reach a common strategic direction.
How do you measure the success of your HR initiatives against business results?
Gladys: Relevant HR metrics need to be developed to track the progress of changes and initiatives made in response to the feedback received. The relevant KPI/HR goals should be defined in the beginning and identify how HR will help to deliver its overall strategy.
What is the biggest myth about being a great business partner?
Gladys: It is important for organisations to recognize HR not merely as a department that ‘hires and fires’ but rather, a strategic business partner who works hand-in-hand with the leadership team to move the business forward.
How do you get invited into critical conversations?
Gladys: Showcase how you can add value to the business with your background and expertise.
In order to do this, you will need to analyse the organisation. Present your findings and recommendations to your superior. Once he/she has gained your trust, suggest being included in the management meeting so that you can present your ideas to the rest of the leadership team.
How do you ensure you see the bigger picture ie outside the perspective of your own function? What concrete steps do you take to achieve this?
Gladys: I tend to participate in business meetings/discussions which may not necessarily be HR-related. In that way, I can gain information, pick up essential points, connect the dots and find possible solutions to various problems.
Is financial literacy key to you becoming more relevant to the business? If so, how?
Gladys: Yes, HRBPs need to know how HR connects to financial performance. In that way, we are able to relate our actions to the bigger picture.
What have you learnt so far about how to get the right people into the right roles?
Gladys: An organisation’s ability to attract, hire and retain top talent is the most critical aspect for its business survival. It is, therefore, essential to ensure the candidate’s skillsets fit the job requirements and that there is a good cultural fit with the organisation.
Gladys De Silva has 20 years of experience managing HR and Administration at both strategic and operational levels in the digital advertising, PR, automotive, NGO, consulting and banking sectors. Gladys began her career in marketing before switching to HR. She was recently accredited as a Certified Human Resource Manager (CHRM) and an HRDF-certified Trainer. With a solid combination of HR and marketing experience, she looks forward to her next challenge in a business partnering role where she can add value to the 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.
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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