The Importance of the HR Business Partner (HRBP)

People Spotlight: Jennie Meltzer, Senior HR Business Partner, DigitalOcean

The importance of HR teams has evolved as companies begin to invest more in their employees and their company experience. While the titles, Chief People Officer and Head of People are trending, the role of HR Business Partner (HRBP) is also stepping into the spotlight. How does an HRBP play an integral role in employee experience and business outcomes?

Meet Jennie Meltzer, the Senior HRBP at Digital Ocean. Jennie takes a consultative approach to create a humanistic bond with her business groups and employees that lets the role of the HRBP shine.

Before starting her career in HR at AOL, Jennie found herself fascinated with human nature and psychology. While conducting psychology research as an undergrad, Jennie was drawn towards business, but couldn’t quite put her finger on what career would best suit her. With some guidance from her father, who himself was an HR professional, she found herself drawn to HR.  This career path would bridge the gap between her interest in psychology and helping people.

After her first job in HR at AOL, Jennie worked at various companies such as Business Insider, The Walt Disney Company and Gizmodo Media Group before landing at her current position with DigitalOcean. Whether at a start-up or corporate organization, Jennie’s experience spanned across employee relations, talent development, as well as employee engagement.

Companies have shifted toward valuing HR in different ways – rather viewing the function as  strictly operational, executive leaders have given their HR partners a seat at the table.  It has become an ongoing mission of HR Business Partners to connect workforce strategies to business goals.

HR Business Partners (HRBPs) also take on a new perspective in today’s landscape for people teams. HRBPs need to develop and build relationships, but are also given the opportunity to take a consultative approach to HR. When an employee comes to the HR team, they typically need something, but it’s identifying a matter of what they need. An HRBP can guide employees, but more importantly can help business units better engage their talent.

HRBPs can be extremely valuable in the workplace. As a business partner, it’s essential to learn as much as you can about the teams you support and how they operate in order to earn professional credibility.  When you understand the business priorities as well as the on-going challenges, you can translate your credibility into influence with key stakeholders.  A business partner can help address on-going issues like high turnover by discovering root causes and coming up with recommendations for employee retention.  

In addition to the shift in the role of HR, the importance of company culture has shifted as well. A common question recruiting teams hear from job applicants during the interview process is, “what’s the culture like?” While every organization defines culture differently, HR helps to set the tone by creating an environment that is pleasant for everyone and connected to company values.

Culture helps define the work environment, but how do you communicate and establish those values with the workforce? One answer is the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). The EVP outlines the rewards of work and what organizations offer in return for your skills and contributions in your role. The “rewards” we receive as employees are defined by compensation, benefits, career development, work content and culture.

The EVP model can help people visualize and understand the values they get from working in their current organization. It can also help people identify what they feel is missing in their current role and what they need in order to stay engaged.

While the EVP helps with engagement, it also helps with retention. When Jennie was at Disney she noticed a trend in exit interviews.  Employees were leaving the organization at similar levels for the same reason, a new career growth and development opportunity. When she asked departing employees if they would return to Disney for another position in the future, many of them said that they would return. She recognized the company was missing an opportunity to develop talent, which prompted her to implement a mentorship program.  The objective of the program was to provide an engagement opportunity to young professionals by connecting them to leaders who had a desire to guide a mentee through career development.

Setting the stage for an approachable HR team or HRBP is no easy feat­– it can be hard to scrub the stereotype of “HR police.”

Be approachable and let people know that you genuinely want to help them. No one will come to you If they don’t know who you are or what you can do for them. The best way to be utilized and valued as a business partner is to build and develop professional relationships. Once you become a recognizable face to people, they will see you as an ally and someone they can come to for guidance.”

Developing the most effective platform to communicate with your organization is a function of understanding the culture and preferred method of communication (i.e. email, slack, in-person, etc.). By making yourself available through all channels, employees will feel comfortable reaching out. The goal is to have the organization know you are available when needed, rather than remaining a mysterious HR person. Once the lines of communication are established, speaking with employees and helping business units will be easier.

Before we ended our conversation, Jennie left us with this piece of advice she has taken with her throughout her career.

Don’t go into every situation expecting to have an answer because it takes time to be thoughtful.  When you do come up with a recommendation or an answer, don’t be offended if people don’t take you up on your advice. Leaders and employees will want to do what they believe is best and sometimes your role as a business partner is to simply lend moral support.

While employees, managers, or business groups may not always follow your lead, remember it’s business and it’s not personal. As an HR leader, you are there to guide people, no matter what.

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