Kimberly Boland on What It Takes to become a Great HR Business Partner

Kimberly Boland asks: What is the value in the task I am undertaking?

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.

In this article, I talk to Kimberly Boland, a HR Business Partner about what she does and what it takes to become a great HR business partner.

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

Kimberly: Being an HR Business partner in today’s world means having a complete understanding of your business. This means understanding each role, the challenges they face, their day to day, right through to the strategy and finances of the organisation. This is the only way you can truly have an impact and be a trusted advisor.

What aspects of your work are strategic?

Kimberly: Talent development and creating a high-performance culture – this is critical to the strategy. If you are not growing talent in line with your strategy, then you will not have the competencies or experience in your organisation to execute it.

How have you brought greater strategic input into your deliverables?

Kimberly: Innovation! By continually challenging how and why we do things, I have been able to suggest smarter ways of working but also assist in strategic organisational development. For example,  by leveraging the great tools that Schneider is deploying and finding innovative ways to ensure they are implemented at every level.

This has been supportive in achieving the strategy. In some instances, this has meant benchmarking against other organisations and ensuring we are driving best practice.

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

Kimberly: The key aspects would be the ability to listen, understand and coach. By listening, you can obtain a greater awareness of what is happening in the organisation. By asking questions and always digging deeper, you will deepen your understanding. By coaching, you will empower employees and managers, rather than become a supporting pillar.

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

Kimberly: Get involved in cross business unit projects. By being involved in projects that run across different business units, you will learn about different areas of the business. This provides a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, learn about their roles and see how their area impacts the business. You can then use this information when considering changing HR tools, policies, processes and systems.

It is common when one area changes something for there to be a residual unforeseen impact in another area. Sometimes this can be negative, so the more you know about the business, the easier implementation will be. Additionally, it pays to sometimes work on projects that are not related to HR. Finance is a great one to get involved in.

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

Kimberly: I ask myself “What is the value in the task I am undertaking?” or “Is there a better way?” These may seem like basic questions but they empower us to be mindful of how we spend our time and the value/impact we can have with the organisation. Sometimes, innovation doesn’t mean implementing something completely new.

It can be making enhancement to legacy items that already exist. Innovation should be a building block to something better. Yes, sometimes there is radical change but like any good change management programme, there should be an analysis undertaken on the rate of the return of the change and the suitability of the change to the organisation’s strategy and values. As HR professionals, we should be operating in a continuous improvement mindset and role modelling this to the organisation.

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

Kimberly: There are two myths that come to mind. The first being that we have all the answers. The second being that it is easy.

As a business partner, you will be in several complex situations and regularly supporting decisions that will have an impact on someone’s life. You will need to remember all the detail surrounding multiple situations at once and be required to make quick judgements. This can be challenging and it can also wear you down. Therefore, it is important to take care of yourself. You need to rock up to work as your best self every day to be effective and be the trusted partner. So, understanding how your brain and energy works are critical and having a mentor to bounce ideas off and seek advice from is important.

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?

Kimberly: Network! Network within your organisation, join communities and talk to other HR professionals. The only way you can stay across this is to communicate. Additionally, cross business unit projects is a great way too.

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

Kimberly: Yes! This is a critical element and a lesson I recently learnt. Finance drives several levers within your organisational strategy. You can implement any organisational structure of programme you want but if the business isn’t performing, then it is worthless. So understanding cost margins, commercial and gross margins are so important. If you do not have access to this information already, then reach out to the people that do. Finance people love talking finance! So meet with them directly. Recently, I met with all the Finance Business partners to understand the quarterly reports. It was time well spent. I learnt how the financial elements fed into the HR strategy.

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

Kimberly: Surprisingly, developing personal relationships. By forming relationships that exist beyond “Hi, how are you? Yes, good and you?”, you learn more about people.

You will know that Sally has three kids who she picks up every day, so going to her at 2.30pm for urgent items will put her under stress. When you know more about the people you work with, you will find it easier to get things done and work collaboratively. For example, if I was continually going to Sally at 2.30pm, she would become frustrated and likely want to help less each time I went to her. Additionally, by knowing more about people, it makes it easier to form connections with people in their network.

Kimberly BolandKimberly Boland is currently a Human Resource Business Partner at Schneider Electric, stretching into the world of Employee Experience Journey Mapping amongst many other HR initiatives. In her role, she partners with the executive management team and implements HR strategies, principles and processes in line with Pacific Zone HR strategies. Prior to this, Kimberly worked in the Workers Compensation industry for more than seven years, beginning at Allianz. Underpinning this operational experience, she has a Bachelor of Psychology, an MBA and is a certified Strength Profiler practitioner.

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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