Q&A: New HRBP Advice

Last week I received an email seeking advice and it reminded me of the time I was starting my career. The questions I was asked were the same I’d asked myself 10 years ago (gosh! Where has time gone?). While I can’t claim to have the perfect answer, I have been an HR Business Partner forever and it’s only fair that I attempt to answer it. So here goes.

Hi Ankita,

I hope you’re well. I stumbled upon your blog while searching for tips on how to engage managers as a new HRBP. 

I just thought to send this email to seek your advice, if not possible, at least I tried. Based on your 90-day rule, I am definitely setting myself up for failure. I have been focused on learning administrative stuff that I have forgotten I have a business to support.

I am new in the HRBP world and honestly, I am having massive imposter syndrome. I have been in my job for a month and going close to two months and I haven’t had any official meeting with the team I am supporting. I have casually met them but not strategically met them. I am not sure the right questions to ask them, how to introduce myself, these things I know are important but I don’t know how to go about it all of a sudden, everything I know is backed up with fear so I am doubting the right thing to do. Should I be sending an email introducing myself or sending a calendar invite at this stage? They already know I exist but I haven’t met with them to discuss concerns and their business units.

Any advice from you would be greatly appreciated. 

First things first – let’s address the imposter syndrome and then get into the other bits. It’s easy for me to say, ‘stop feeling that way’, but I know that’s worse than saying nothing. So, I’ll say this instead. Everyone feels this way at some point or most of the time. Just listen to the many TED talks and you’ll know. It is great that you’ve labelled it and are seeking a way to quell the feeling. There’s no better place to start. Secondly, if are doubting yourself, trust the ones who put you in that position. Lastly, you are already doing everything you need to be successful. You are doing more than most people do. You are scouring the internet for advice and reaching out to people. You’d be surprised at the % of people who put in that kind of effort. All you need to do now is jump straight in. That’s it. You are more prepared than you think you are.

Now, let’s get to part two. The business leaders and teams you support are human beings; not scary monsters. You are new and use that to your advantage. Ask your manager to send an introductory note to the teams you are supporting. If that’s not feasible, send one out to key leaders and managers yourself. Tell them a little bit about yourself, how excited you are to work with them and that you will be setting up introductory calls so they should expect an invite to land on their calendar soon.

Part three – do a little prep before you meet them. Once you have the invites on the calendar, here are a few things to do pre-meeting. Look at data on team composition. How large is the team? How many different job families are there? How many organization layers? What is the usual span of control? Do you notice any anomalies? Spend some time looking at these details and if you can, speak to the last person who supported these teams as their HR Business Partner. Ask them about the quirks, strengths and past cases. If you have the time, read about the things the team works on. That done, you are now ready to meet these folks and impress them.

It’s finally time for the introductory meeting. Here are six questions I use. I’ve been tweaking them over the years and don’t hesitate to modify depending on role specifics and the kind of business.

  1. Can you help explain what your team does to me? Who should I be speaking to in order to understand more about the business? [If you don’t understand their explanation the first time, ask them to explain it to you like they would to a ten-year-old. There is no shame in not understanding it the first time over.]
  2. Are there documents I should read to understand more about the business? [This is a continuation of the first. There’s often an internal webpage, videos or documents that will reveal more about the teams you support. Ask for them.]
  3. What are the strengths of the team? [If there are employee survey results, scan them prior to the meeting but don’t get lost in the numbers. This is a question that the leader answers and you nod taking notes and sometimes say – oh yes! You scored high on that in the last employee engagement survey. Trust me, they’d be impressed.]
  4. What are your top three areas of concern? [Be specific about three. If you don’t specify, you may end up with a long list in no order of priority. Or you may end up with a short list. If they are only stating people specific concerns, nudge them a little. Ask them what aspects of business worries them? Is the market share falling? Are there too many goals as compared to people? Is the ownership model confusing?]
  5. What meetings should I be present in? [This is where you make your way into team meetings, goal reviews and other meetings that they won’t naturally add you to. They may believe an HRBP has no role in these meetings and it is likely that you understand less than 10% of what is discussed there. Get that invite on your calendar even if you can’t make it to each one of them.]
  6. How often should you & I meet? [Leave the meeting having determined an engagement model and a regular 1:1 set. I’ll leave the frequency to you but remember, never stay out of sight for too long]

Lastly, say ‘sorry’ when you make mistakes and ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t have the answer. Both are more acceptable than we believe them to be & that’s it. Getting started is the easy part. It’s the one time you can have fun, learn a lot, make many mistakes and build new connections without fear. Of course, don’t forget the quick wins and you’ll be golden.

All the best! & keep me posted how it goes.   


2 thoughts on “Q&A: New HRBP Advice

  1. OMG! This is exactly what I was looking for, thanks for breaking this down. Thank you so much for this! I am saving this and sending it to friends.

  2. I am just about to start my new career as HRBP and I could have written this email. Thank you for giving me a direction to start in…… I’ve got this.

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