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I’m sure that we could Google “HR Business Partner key competencies” and find countless articles on the subject, so I won’t attempt to add another one to the search. But during my time in HR, I have experienced some situations that have helped me develop skills to be an effective Business Partner.

1. It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you reflect and learn from them

I’ve been fortunate in my career in that I have had supportive managers around me and when I’ve made a mistake (we’re all human and they happen), it’s been able to be rectified. What the important lesson has been for me is to reflect back on these situations and identify what learnings I can take from them to apply in the future.

One lesson that I learned early on was around stakeholder engagement.  Coming into a new organisation is difficult for many reasons, learning where things are, how things are done and forming relationships with new people. One company that I went into had a network of managers dispersed across the country and I had been advised that they had a reasonable engagement with the existing HR team. I assumed that this group of managers saw HR as their business partner and understood the value that the role could add to their local business. As part of me getting to know them and their business and wanting to understand their business plan, their general reaction was ‘what do you want to see my business plan for? I just need you to make sure that my contracts and paperwork gets done quickly…’

I had made an incorrect assumption about what the businesses needs were and where it was at in terms of partnership – their needs were sitting more in Ulrich’s Administrative Expert quadrant than HR Business Partner.

Credibility, like trust, takes time to build and reflecting back now, it would have been more effective to get more of an understanding of the businesses needs before going in all guns blazing.

2. Keep a check on your own health and wellbeing

In HR land, we often have to do challenging and difficult activities that other managers may not want, or have the capability, to do themselves. Often this is because of human relationships. It’s not easy giving people bad news, which can be quite uncomfortable for some managers.

One of the toughest conversations that I’ve had to have with employees was to break news with a staff of around 100 that one of our own had taken their life.

The following days were hard for everyone, trying to start working through our loss and people sharing with me stories of their loved ones affected by depression and suicide. As HR practitioners, we often find ourselves in the role of counsellor and it’s important that we recognise when we may need to call on our own support networks to give us the ability to continue to support others in the workplace. We all talk about health and safety being paramount at work, but how often do we consider our own health and safety in situations where emotions are running high?

Late one winter’s afternoon when it was dark, miserable and pouring with rain, the last thing that I was thinking about was keeping an eye out for an employee that I’d just terminated for assault following me home from work. The next morning my husband and I woke up to both our cars having been egged and dog excrement down my car’s air conditioning vents. I got off lighter than the employee’s manager who had his van’s fuel lines cut and only found out when he noticed that his half tank of petrol had mysteriously disappeared overnight and when petrol was spilling out all over the petrol station forecourt when he tried to fill up.

Recognising when situations could turn from controlled to uncontrolled is important in situations where employees may be experiencing significant pressure or stress and you’re perceived to be the cause of it.

3. Manage upwards effectively

Sometimes we can’t get away from the politics in the office. Sometimes not everyone gets along and other times we’re not all on the same page. This can become difficult, particularly in matrix reporting situations, where you may have a direct line manager but also have a dotted reporting line to the business.

Having had first-hand experience of where a line manager was very much at odds with the business and wanted an HR initiative rolled out in a very specific way and where the business was telling us that the solution wouldn’t work for them, I sought advice because it was getting pretty rough being stuck in the middle of two sparring managers.

The business leader shared that they too had had been piggy in the middle earlier on in their career and when I asked how they dealt with it they advised that they “had aligned themselves with the person with the greatest influence.” In this case, the business leader was the more senior of the two managers and had influence over the largest department in the organisation and the company’s leadership team. At this time I reflected back and considered that as a wider HR team, our purpose is to help the organisation deliver and we could come up with a solution that worked for the business, as opposed to one that just worked for the HR team.

I had to manage the situation delicately to respect my line manager, but at the end of the day, we were able to deliver a product that the business was satisfied with, rather than implementing a solution that didn’t work by not having the level of engagement it needed to be embedded and sustainable, which maintained the HR team’s growing level of trust, credibility and partnership with the business.


4.  Stay curious and say yes to new opportunities

We grow and develop as HR practitioners when we experience new situations. This often happens as a matter of course in our roles, whether we’re managing an employee conduct situation that we haven’t led before, implementing a new leadership development framework or taking on people leadership responsibilities for the first time.

If you get the opportunity to be involved in something new that might be a bit challenging because it’s outside of your comfort zone, say yes.

If you don’t know the answer, engage your networks and do some research to find out.  If something interests you, read up on it.

Earlier in the year I put myself forward to attend an HR innovation and technology conference that wouldn’t have been a typical development opportunity that I would have chosen for myself. I got the chance to extend my network and hear from some high profile key note speakers from Spotify, Xero and Air New Zealand that really made me consider new ways of doing things in established HR areas like induction and onboarding, learning and development and performance management. I was able to bring some of these learnings back to the office to consider our current processes with a new lens, which was really valuable.

Being an effective business partner means that along the way, you’ve had to navigate through sometimes complex and uncomfortable situations. But it’s those experiences that extend and develop our map of the world and give us the ability to partner with the business in a meaningful way.

Don’t hold these experiences at arm’s length, embrace them and take whatever learnings you can from them, as it’s these situations that will help develop relevant competencies for you to keep drawing on when you’re facing a similar problem in the future.

APPNZ: We’d like to thank Adelyn for sharing her career learnings and the situations that have helped her grow and develop her skills.

This week our guest blogger is Adelyn Wischnowsky, an HR Business Partner in the health sector. Adelyn has written about her career lessons on being an HR Business Partner.