On the Sofa with Sarah Jallow: The Role of HR Business Partnering and Being the Voice of the Organization
SHL’s HR leader, Sarah Jallow, talks about the role of HR Business Partnering and how HR leaders can show value to the business.
In this upcoming series of blogs, we speak with HR Leaders within SHL who will be sharing their experience of managing the HR function through hiring, development, and talent management. Hear about the challenges they face, the key traits required to succeed, and how organizations can serve their talent better.
This month, Sarah Jallow, Director of HR Business Partnering at SHL, speaks about her role, the importance of managing relationships across the business, and how HR leaders show value to the business.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and role within SHL?
I have worked across all aspects of HR over the past 21 years of my career covering various industries and organizations of different sizes, from startups to global companies like SHL.
At SHL I lead the Global HR Business Partner Team—our responsibility is to understand the business goals and connect them to a people strategy. We are effectively the voice of the HR function out to the business and the voice from the business back into the HR function.
My global team is a mixture of HR Business Partners and HR Advisors. Business Partners are aligned to a specific function and work with the senior leaders and executive team focusing on strategic and operational support. HR Advisors deliver the core HR processes and policies within a specific region supporting managers and employees. We also work closely with the other HR teams that cover talent acquisition, learning & development, total reward, and HR operations so we are aligned across the entire employee lifecycle.
How do you think the HR Business Partner role has evolved and how has this changed the traits now needed for those working in HR?
Many of the core areas that HR is typically involved with are always going to be there but what has changed is the context in which we are operating.
I think our responsibilities have widened and events like the COVID pandemic, Brexit, and the cost of living crisis have accelerated this, as HR became the default for guidance on what to do in these unusual, turbulent, and unforeseen circumstances. We will not always have the answers straight away, but we can work with the business to get them, so it further highlighted the importance of HR being fully integrated into the business strategy.
Resilience and agility are important traits for HR Business Partners—you cannot simply set in stone your plans at the start of the year. Of course, you still have goals and objectives but there are always things that will come in from left field and throw you off course so you must be comfortable with changing priorities and staying focused.
Finally, with constant change, there is an impact on how people feel and how they respond which means that empathetic traits such as kindness, compassion, and vulnerability are critical. I think these traits were undervalued and overlooked in the past, but they have become much more prominent and appreciated recently.
What are the most challenging parts of your role?
Most HR leaders want to spend more time on higher value, strategic business partnering work but there are always times when you get pulled down into the weeds for operational work or having to rebalance your workload to deliver a short-term project.
When everything is moving at pace and you are getting competing demands, it can be difficult to find that time and headspace to step back, reflect, and decide what your priority should be. The only thing that is predictable about our roles is unpredictability, so you must be prepared for things to suddenly change and not get complacent.
Also, a lot of HR business partnering work can be quite hidden and we often deal with sensitive, emotive, and confidential issues that we cannot openly speak about so it can be difficult to show the true value and impact of this work. We will typically put everyone else’s needs first and forget to look after ourselves, so it is also really important to remember to take the time to focus on your own team’s well-being.
Empathetic traits such as kindness, compassion, and vulnerability are critical. I think these traits were undervalued and overlooked in the past, but they have become much more apparent and appreciated recently.
How do you show the value of your work to the business?
This is where data becomes vital. An example of this is identifying high potentials. Typically, this is a subjective exercise, often based on the leader’s opinions of a person and what they are seeing them do day to day. However, when HR Business Partners use objective data in this process, they can present insights to validate or challenge assumptions, and more importantly enable better decision-making, giving everyone more confidence in the outcome.
Using data-led insights changes the nature and dynamic of the conversations with senior leaders. HR Business Partners are immediately more credible as we are sharing a point of view backed up with data, not just an opinion or feeling. It really puts us on the front foot and shows our value and impact on the business.
How crucial are the relationships between HR and the rest of the business?
Maintaining close relationships is critical as business priorities change so it is essential that HR stays aligned with those priorities.
In this role, you need to be able to work up, down, and across the business. You will be working upward with the executive leadership team to ensure that you understand the business strategy. You will then be working across your own HR function and with other senior leaders to deliver the business goals. Finally, you also need to ensure that you remain connected to how people are feeling, keeping constant pulse checks on engagement and satisfaction to understand the lived experience of working in a company.
There is always a constant juggling to manage everyone’s viewpoints, but it is also one of the most enjoyable parts of the role. HR is key in bridging that gap between the views of the senior leaders with the views of the employees, which can sometimes be in conflict, so we often act as the translator to ensure everyone is being heard.
How have you seen your relationship with employees change?
Employees are more open, honest, and vocal about what they want and expect, even on public social media forums, so we get a lot of feedback from the ground up. Companies are now expected to have a response to anything they are asked—which could vary from their position on political and global events to questions around inclusion, well-being, and employee benefits.
Hybrid and flexible working are prime examples of where companies are trying to do the right thing both for the business and for their employees. Flexibility is no longer a “nice to have” but is expected by employees.
As HR leaders, we must listen and be able to take on board that feedback, be as transparent as possible, and ensure that the business is aware and able to respond in a timely manner.
Finally, DEIBA used to be nice to have, now it is common knowledge that diverse workforces tend to produce better results and so HR is paramount to helping create an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.
How do you see the future of HR and your role?
Technology and automation will continue to improve the efficiency of certain HR tasks that are more transactional on both the HR side and the manager, employee, or candidate side—but it should be in the right places. If there is a chance to make a process simpler, easier, or more efficient, that is fantastic. If it enables people to access information better or do more things themselves, that again is great. The one thing we should be wary of though is data only gives you information, you must be able to tell the story behind the data and make sure you keep that people element to it. Yes, it is data, but it is data on people, so you need to be aware of what the data is for, what it means, and how to interpret it, to guide those decisions that you make.
Are you looking to show value to your business and improve your HR strategy? Speak with SHL to see how our solutions can help you get actionable data-driven talent insights, improve hiring efficiency, and engage employees better.