HR Expertise and the HR Business Partner

It’s the middle of November and this is the first post on HR expertise in my ongoing HR Business Partner series. Hey, I’ve been business partnering and life partnering and dealing with some distractions that have kept me from writing. So what does HR expertise look like for an HRBP? The first thing is experience.

I have been doing this HR thing for 20+ years. With the first few years as an agency and corporate recruiter, most of my career has been in the role of an HR generalist/manager/HRBP. Regardless of the title, I have spent my time with leaders in organizations advising them on how to best engage their people. I’ve worked with employees to get the best out of their careers and to navigate some difficult situations.

There is no textbook or class or conference speaker that can prepare you for the day-to-day situations of the HRBP. I learned this in the first few months of my HR management career. An employee came to my office and was in tears. They told a story of how their manager was asking too much of them and was being disrespectful in their tone and how they spoke to this employee. As this person was telling their story, I’m thinking to myself, “why is this person telling me this? Do they need a tissue? Should I call somebody?” As I relayed this story to my boss, he laughs a little and says, “welcome to HR. This won’t be your last. Let’s talk about employee relations and how to handle them.” This is when I learned there are 3 sides to every story.

Textbooks and blogs can’t teach you how to manage a 400 person reduction in force (RIF). They can guide you through some templates and processes and help you manage through employment laws, but they can’t prepare you for the conversations with the employees. They can’t prepare you for how one person may react upon hearing the news.

While it’s not the most proud work I’ve done, I have been a part of many RIFs. And I learn something with each one. I have been a part of a merger and setting up a new organization’s HR organization. I have been through countless terminations and they never get easier. I have navigated and resolved some of the messiest employee relations issues and each one provides a new level of learning.

I have spent countless hours in staff meetings of CFOs, CIOs, General Counsels, and business leaders to learn more about their organizations. I’ve led them through organizational changes and coached them to be better leaders.

With all my certifications and all of the conferences and courses I’ve attended, there has been no better way to develop my HR expertise than my work experiences. Spending each day “in the trenches” and failing and trying new approaches and creating small wins has made me the strong HR professional I am today. By taking on projects that didn’t fall in my wheelhouse or asking to participate on a team to learn more about the HR specialist functions has made me a better HRBP.

Having title of HRBP is all well and fine, but there is no substitute for continued learning and experience within organizations guiding them through their HR and people strategy. It’s the work I love and will continue to do.


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