Diplomat. Strategist. Fortune Teller. Job = Modern Day HR Business Partner


By, Cari Desiderio

The trendy term for HR today is business partner. But, what does it mean exactly?  And how does it differ from the way HR used to operate?

The simplest explanation is to say that HR is shifting away from more transactional work, to become more business focused. This does not mean that we can give up our technical HR and compliance knowledge base.  Just because the day to day task loads are shifting to outsourcing options or in house centers of excellence, does not mean that our knowledge of what the content is comprised of should disappear.  Our knowledge base of HR compliance in all the states or countries we operate in needs to remain.

But, in addition to knowing how to manage files or how to administer FMLA, there is a whole new world of competencies required in order to be valued in the modern day organization.

HR partners who make the cut are those who get the business. And who have an uncanny good ability to advise and lead the type of people decisions that get results.  This is not an easy thing.  In fact, I would argue that successful HR business partners can only be those with a very strong intuition for people and strong intuition for business.  Some of this can certainly be studied and taught.  However, there may be some HR professionals who are hard wired for task orientation and struggle with boundary less terrain that requires utilization of many senses to guide the path.

In a way, to earn credibility and be needed, HR now has to offer a special skill set that the operational and business leaders don’t have.  Strong HR business partners have heightened natural people and situation management acumen. I call this the art of diplomacy.  What does a diplomat do?  He/she engages varying sides and negotiates.   Acts as the peacemaker and integrator of different groups. It’s not much different in business.  A strong HR partner is able to move through all of the crowds and cultures and help them find common ground. There is no better example of this perhaps than a corporate acquisition resulting in the merging of two cultures.  In today’s rampantly changing business world, such activity is commonplace.  My company has been through eleven of these in recent years.  The success or failure of an acquisition is based on far more than the financials and a good product to sell.  If the people cannot come together, don’t expect the business to succeed.  Diplomacy can help smooth the path of integration.

Another critical HR Business Partner competency is what I call the art of strategy.  This is where keen business understanding comes into play.  If you as a HR partner are not studying your business climate, understanding what markets are facing, understanding the global climate, understanding the SWOT analysis, then you best not force any idea on your operational teams.  If however you are a HR partner who studies these things and then looks at ways to shape and move the people performance in the direction of business opportunity, by engaging and deploying talent, then you have shifted to the position of an HR strategist.

My last competency is perhaps a bit comedic. I call it the art of fortune telling.  Silly perhaps and of course I do not mean literal crystal balls.  But, rather, a strong HR business partner necessarily must be a student of culture, people, environments and as a combination of these observations have a good handle on predicting what is ahead.  Some time back I found myself in a culture that was pretty broken and lacking trust.  I assessed this and in a few months time advised the business leaders that if we did not correct course we were at risk of losing a number of very long term and critical members of the team, including critical managers.  I wish that my prediction did not come true.  Through this situation my credibility and respect with the leaders grew.  Call it uncanny intuition if you will.  I call it keen observation of what is going on, followed by courage to respectfully speak up about it.  Know your people. Get ahead of things.  Advise your leaders. You will be invited into meetings and executive committees that you never thought you’d be part of, once they realize you are a true subject matter expert in the art of people leadership. 

The cool thing about being a modern day HR Business Partner is that there is never a dull day!  People and business and strategy are complex, engaging, challenging and rewarding. Hats off to the HR professionals who step up to the challenge and become tomorrow’s business leaders!


The Talent Games – Why Engagement Matters


By, Cari Desiderio

My favorite part of human resources, by far, is the opportunity we get as HR leaders to invest in managers and grow them by teaching them how to motivate and engage their employees.  It is also the part of our field that I take most seriously. And, if I’m honest, that some days I feel ill equipped to teach.

It is safe for most of us to become experts in a technical area. To learn a product.  To become proficient at planning events. Or writing marketing material. Or crunching numbers on spreadsheets.  Things like this can be planned, executed and managed without too many surprises.  Just like any household chore, once I master a task at work I can advance from basic to advanced to even expert levels of proficiency at said task.

The part of business that isn’t quite so cut and dry is the fuel that we need to accomplish business tasks.  Namely, our people.

Do you ever wish your employees came with a user guide?  Say this specific phrase and Sally will perform at 100% level of engagement today, with a smile at all times.  Train John this way and he will consistently and reliably execute on the task you give him.  Send Jane to this sales and customer service course and your customer satisfaction scores will sky rocket. Check the box, check the box, check the box.

Silly, right?

Of course people do not come with user guides.  We are moody, emotional, fragile at times, in need of unique kinds of motivation based on how we each are wired, and depending on the day we may or may not be as perfectly reliable as our managers wish. When we get fed up with bureaucracy at work or your style of leadership, we just might abandon ship and go work for the company down the street.  The user guide didn’t explain how to handle that.

The reason why I have days when I feel ill equipped to teach managers how to lead well, is because if I am honest I am still learning.  It takes energy, care, and a lot of managing with intuition and patience to lead teams well. It takes stepping off of my throne, and looking around to tend to my team members’ needs first.

Yet, without our people, no business will succeed.  Being able to hire good talent and keep good talent will make or break a company. Companies who learn to do this with proficiency will have a competitive advantage over others in their industry.

With this said, no greater investment can be made than an investment in the culture of a company and the methods in place to both motivate and grow talent.  A good read on this topic is this one –http://www2.deloitte.com/sa/en/pages/human-capital/articles/employee-engagement-culture-human-capital-trends-2015.html?id=sa:2sm:3li:4dcom_share:5awa:6dcom:human_capital

In this simple article, Deloitte highlights some critical pieces to engaging your employees.  The first is to ensure the leaders at the top care about the employees and care about engagement.  This seems a no brainer. But not all companies get this.  You see engagement and good people management is not something one can farm out.  A smart CEO who has little interest in his people will not have a loyal company.  Caring comes from the top.

The last few areas this article points out have to do with making work meaningful and simple.  Make it easy to come to work and get the job done, and provide an environment that is inviting.  The simple part reminds me of a time when I was in an opposite situation where excess rules and a handbook thicker than was healthy, led to a “big brother is watching” culture that disengaged and angered team members.  Similar to raising a child, make rules and standards logical and use the less is best rule.  We may not be children anymore, but the desire for freedom and flexibility is human.  When we are trusted we become more trustworthy. When we are given freedom to create, we innovate. Focus on what counts with your teams. Make goals clear and focus on the minimum required to get maximum output.  Add a bit of meaning to work by showing how your employee’s contributions impact the bottom line. Celebrate this.  Reward this. Give employees opportunities to have experiences and exposure so they can grow.

The last and final point of this article is to get in touch with the Millennial generation.  In other words, be sure we know what the group that will be half the work population in three years wants!  I would extend this sentiment further for the global companies.  Get to know the culture of each group, especially if you lead teams that are not from your native part of the world.  This sounds scary perhaps. But it’s not.  If you are a manager who is curious and caring enough to ask questions and spend time with your employees, you will learn.  Paying attention and caring… go a long way.  You don’t have to be the smartest person on the team to lead the team. You actually need to hire smarter people than you to be on your team. Then treat them well.

Good luck playing the chess game of talent!  May the best people engagement strategists win!