Are you an HR Thought Partner?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a strategic HR partner, leader and influencer. I’m a department of one, and I strongly believe that the key to success is investing in relationships. The combination of being trustworthy and invested, along with really knowing your stuff, makes you both a subject matter expert and also a partner that folks in your organization will want in their corner.

One way to accomplish this is to be a thought partner. According to the internet (and honestly, I found this definition everywhere with no attribution – if you know where it comes from, please share), a thought partner ‘is someone who: Challenges your thinking. Causes you to modify or change your paradigms, assumptions or actions. Has information or a way of thinking that provokes you to innovate or otherwise leads to value creation in your business, career or life.’

If I want to be a trusted leader, I need to be a thought partner. If a manager comes to my office with a personnel issue, certainly I want to be sure that they use HR best practices and things like documentation and compliance are covered. And it would be easy for me to simply share my knowledge of management, employee relations, etc., and tell the manager how she should handle her employee.

But when I take the time to ask questions, listen to her answers, and ask more questions, the conversation changes. It’s no longer me putting on my HR hat and telling her what to do. Now it’s me coming alongside as a partner and guiding her to some self-reflection and self-knowledge. I help her figure out how to isolate the problem behavior, brainstorm ideas of addressing her employee, identify ways to hold the employee accountable, and develop real action items for herself and her staff member. Instead of leaving with a list of steps she needs to follow, she leaves feeling more confident in her ability to manage because she has figured it out for herself through our conversation.

Investing in relationships, however, is a two-way street, and I can’t be the expert on everything. If you want to be valued and be sought for your expertise, you need to value the knowledge that others bring, and seek them out as thought partners as well. I have a colleague in IT who has successfully rolled out a number of IT initiatives. We recently transitioned to a new payroll vendor, and she became an invaluable thought partner for me as I was planning for the transition. She asked me questions and helped me clarify for myself potential pitfalls. She has also been with the organization longer than I have, and was able to share her own institutional knowledge of how new IT has been received, and how I could most successfully market the changes to come.

I’m thankful to the HR pros that challenge my thinking, cause me to change my paradigms, and provoke me to innovate. How can you be a thought partner in your organization? How would the idea of being a thought partner change your interactions when folks come to you with HR questions? Who in your organization can help be a thought partner with you?

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