“Would you be brave enough to do this?”
Of all the required skills and personality traits required by leaders in human resources business partner positions, the most important to their success is credibility, says Ho Wai Wong-Lam, vice president of strategy at NXP Semiconductors N.V.
“You deal with lots of confidential information and you are working with a lot of people,” she says. “Do you have a good value system? Do you have empathy towards other employees? Can you stand up against wrong practices? Would you be brave enough to do this?” These kind of qualities and traits are top criteria in all companies, she said.
Wong-Lam who was a recent guest speaker in the Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) Excellence course at UCSC Silicon Valley Extension brought the client partner perspective to Linda Gunther’s class. She talked about her expectations for someone in the HRBP role—personal credibility, HR functional capability, and results driven—and fielded questions from a small, diverse class that included HR professionals seeking to grow in their career, re-entry students, and people just starting their career in the HR field.
“You need to know your stuff—how to hire, let people go, train people, manage a budget—all the mechanics of HR and running the department,” she said, adding that you also need to be able to show results. “It’s good to have vision, but an HR business person actually needs to get a lot done.”
The HRBP and Business Acumen
Beyond the top three competencies cited above, the top demands of the HRBP vary based on industry, company size, maturity, and resources, Wong-Lam said. For example, an HR business partner in a small startup may need more expertise in change management than an HRBP in a larger company where there may be more of a need for organizational savvy. An HRBP in a startup may need more business acumen than a counterpart in a large organization.
“In a startup, the need for business acumen will be much higher because you will need to make lots of decisions that will affect the business and you won’t have a lot of specialists to help you,” she says.
The HRBP and Data-Driven Decisions
Another example of differing priorities in a company might be the use of data-driven decisions. In a small company, an HRBP will know most of the employees, clients and managers. Once a company has grown to a certain size, however, it’s impossible for HR directors to see first-hand how objectives are being carried out. They will have to rely on analytics.
“Most of us can only really interact with 200 people on a daily basis and be able to know them,” Wong-Lam says. “If you have 10,000 or 100,000 people, it becomes impossible to know everyone individually. You can’t oversee 100K people, but you can see from the data that all your managers are indeed doing the job.”
HRBP and Leadership
Wong-Lam asked students to consider what they think they do best and what they enjoy the most. She advised them to look for a job where they can maximize the overlap of their top skills and their passion with what a company is looking for.
Wong-Lam, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, worked briefly in Hong Kong and earned a master’s degree in electronics engineering with a Philips scholarship in The Netherlands. She worked for Philips Electronics and NXP Semiconductors in diverse functions, both in The Netherlands and the U.S.
Her favorite thing about her current job?
“In my position focusing on strategy, I have the ability and the opportunity to really make a difference,” she says. “I make decisions that have an impact on the general direction of the business and where we’re going, so it has a lot of consequences for the company, for our employees and for our customers. I can make our lives better. I basically want to leave the world better with me than without me.”