3 Questions to Ask to Improve HR Business Partner Competencies
Over the past decade, HR transformation has gone to great lengths to unburden HR business partners from transactional work that used to tie up their days. This same transformation spawned Centers of Excellence (COEs) that placed specialized expertise merely a phone call or email away. HR business partner competencies then became more pivotal.
So why aren’t our HR Business Partners (HRBPs), well, more truly strategic business partners?
While many HRBPs have thrived with their shifted responsibilities, some still struggle with thinking and acting more strategically, and can still get tied up in day-to-day execution without stopping to take in the big picture. HRBPs should use three simple questions to structure strategic discussions with the business leaders they support:
1. What are your business priorities?
If it’s been awhile since HRBPs have talked about these with their leaders, encourage them to use any reason or excuse to ask again: “We’ve just finished performance reviews, so now’s a good time to do some planning…”; “It’s the beginning of the quarter…”; “We’re closing in on midyear…”; “It’s the second Tuesday in March, and I’m wearing red…” They should become familiar with short- and long-term business priorities, and the importance and timing of each.
2. What do your priorities mean from a people-perspective?
This is a great place for HRBPs to assert themselves; for each of the priorities, they should point out what each signifies for identifying and developing talent, retention, culture, organization design, succession… the list goes on. But HRBPs should ask the business leaders their views as well, to avoid missing an opportunity to encourage a talent mindset among leaders. The answers to this question can establish the pillars of the HRBP’s agenda.
Encourage your HRBPs to ask – and anticipate – this question.
First, asking WHY is critical, and differentiates those HRBPs who think and act strategically. Requests that look like small, tactical, to-do list items (directing a client to a few job req forms) can disguise a broader issue ripe for HRBP attention (reorganizing or developing talent in a department). Asking why the number of job reqs are needed, in this example, can help identify a meatier challenge that calls out for HRBP skill.
Second, it’s good stakeholder management to expect and proactively answer this question when effort is required from the business – to distribute an engagement survey, perhaps. Answering the WHY helps business leaders understand how the engagement survey or other initiative can contribute to the business leaders’ success. Often, HRBPs can connect the dots by illustrating how an HR initiative supports the people-related agenda, thereby supporting the business priorities (see questions 1 and 2, above).
By asking these three questions, HRBPs can think and act more strategically. More senior team members can offer suggestions for working the questions into conversation. Quick learners can pick up tips for identifying the small client requests that could actually be signs of broader issues. And most importantly, business leaders benefit from stronger, more meaningful actions from their HR business partners.