The second of a series of two conferences on Successful HR Business Partnering was opened by Jon Ingham who likened this instalment to a film sequel for the Jaws franchise: Return of the Shark. That proved to be true! This conference was characterised by HR professionals at all stages in their career journeys, with a strong appetite for turning the rhetoric for business partnering into action. This event had teeth!
The conference began with Graham Salisbury from Action Aid who discussed his experiences of embedding the business partnering model both in the defence and charity sectors. He argued that HR stands or fails by the complete service the function offers and that often when you segregate HR roles it can break up the ‘one team’ ethos, creating a “them and us” culture between business partners and expert services. Graham’s advice for businesses that want to improve HRBP capability was…. don’t just focus on HRBPs! The recipe for success is to ensure the whole HR team knows what the role of the HRBP is and how each team contributes to the success of the function as a whole. Craig de Sousa provided further advice for those transitioning to a HRBP model. He reiterated the importance of strong transactional functions allowing business partners to have the right to deliver on the strategic function and the need for Business Partners to act as an account manager for the wider HR services.
Perhaps most importantly, Craig discussed the need to think through the process of handing a new way of working back to the business in a considered and thoughtful way. This was a principle reiterated strongly by Caroline Mellor from Axcess Financial who argued that if businesses were grading HR we would be getting a C-!
Caroline explained that in her view the HR function is clever but disconnected and really what managers need from the function is very simple. In her pursuit of bringing common sense back to HR she is focusing on those issues that managers really struggle with such as paying the right reward, clarifying to employees what’s important in their role and what good performance looks like. She noted that by 2050 50% of all jobs as we know them will have disappeared and if HR does not want to be amongst them HR partners need to be willing, able, focussed and cost effective. Marcus Lee from Santander suggested that an area of focus should be on data. The intelligence businesses have around customers and markets is strong but he posed the question as to whether we have the people in our HR teams with the commercial insight to manage risk and deliver returns. At Santander customer information was overlaid with workforce plans to deliver greater productivity – more employees were employed to work at peak times. It was as simple and common sense as that! This was also Peter Reilly’s argument – HR need to spend less time on HR issues and more time on business issues. Peter pointed out that for a business partnering model to work well organisations need to build HR and line capability, define the HRBP roles well, focus on key people related issues and as we heard from Marcus, use data to influence.
The day was closed by two inspiring sessions by Sarah Clark (St Mungos Broadway) and Jenn Batey (Grant Thornton) sharing their experiences of engagement and change. Sarah advised that when faced with difficult decisions it is critical to be transparent with the organisation and be explicit about the deal they are entering into with you. She recalled that during their process middle managers were critical for engagement as they were closest to employees and understood their concerns. Jenn talked of her experiences noting that resistance to the change programme she experienced was about fear of doing something differently. Grant Thornton has had great success with their change by truly embedding a coaching model: all partners were trained in NLP and people managers are coaching every day focusing on employees long term careers. People adopted the new ways of working because they were clear on what was in it for them and with regular stories of success being communicated.
Overall, debate and discussion at the event was lively and passionate. There was a tide of participants who were keen to stop questioning the role of the business partner and use the inputs of the day to ‘get on and do’, to focus on the changing demands of our organisations and connect with businesses on their level.
if you missed this year’s HRBP conference, make sure to save the date on your calendar for HRBP conference 2015 on Tuesday 10th November 2015.