Article: Qualys’ Kamal Vatnani on the changing role of HR Business Partners

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Qualys’ Kamal Vatnani on the changing role of HR Business Partners

HR Business partner as a role is coming under a lot of scrutiny and pressure in the last few years, especially with more and more technology being used in HR.
Qualys’ Kamal Vatnani on the changing role of HR Business Partners

As per Sierra Cedar HR systems survey 2017-18, most large organizations are trying to decrease the number of HR generalist and HR business partner roles. Traditionally, this role acted as the necessary interface between business and various HR centers of excellence (COE) service providers. 

The HRBP role has been the role focused on getting things done within the business unit, COE, while also representing the business interests in the COE. With the increased use of technology in many COE functions, this role is likely to undergo a fundamental change from the one of coordination to that of value creation driven by the use of technology and data.

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In our efforts to find more about what senior HR professionals in the industry are thinking and changing with respect to this role particularly, we reached out to Kamal Vatnani –  VP HR India and APAC at Qualys, a leading provider of cloud-based security and compliance solutions in more than 130 countries. As one of the first SaaS security company, Qualys is a very interesting organization. Kamal is a seasoned HR professional with a progressive experience of 18 years in multiple IT organizations primarily in product development and R&D. He holds double MBA degrees from Nagpur University and from SIBM, Pune. 

PM: HRBP has been a very common role in global organizations. How do you see it change in the last few years?

KV: I think the real implementation of the HRBP model is still evolving, especially with large Indian MNC’s. We have been talking about this for a long time, but there are still organizations that perform HR role in its traditional way.

Automation is a big driving force in all functions and not just in HR. Organizations are adapting to this new way of business and making fundamental changes and it has an impact on the role of HR. Today, I see the HRBP model has evolved from being just an information provider and enabler to being very closely involved right at the center of the business action. 

The HRBP is no longer considered to be an outsider who is enabling the business as a partner, but an insider who is working directly and very closely with business leaders to meet business objectives and work on the real business agenda. HRBPs are expected to take ownership of the business issues as collaborative members of the business leadership team.

PM: With an increased use of digital technologies in HR, which areas of HRBP's role are being impacted the most? Can you elaborate with an example?

KV: The digital revolution has impacted the entire gamut of HR function and the HRBP role is no different. With the exponential use of technology in every sphere of our lives, the digital age is fast becoming the new normal. It is moving at such a fast pace that the impact is huge on the way an organization operates, be it big or small and requires them to develop a new and agile way of thinking about the HRBP delivery model.

The biggest challenge for HR today is to ensure the success of digital transformation journey for the organization with minimum disruption. One example here could be how HRBP can proactively help organizations to embrace digital talent lifecycle. This includes attracting, retaining and motivating talent for the organization.  The talent plan should focus on HR being able to identify and fill the gap between current and future digital competencies. 

Digital talent is scarce and it is challenging for organizations to find the required competencies in the market. HRBPs must work with business leaders in promoting the potential staff from within and focus on enabling a learning environment by creating a tailored learning and development framework to transition its workforce to digital. Help create a digital culture which embraces information and insight and recognizes the true value of autonomy, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

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PM: With AI/ML and Robotic process automation, which areas of HRBP roles do you see being "robotized"?

KV: I think we still have a long way to go there. These are just entering our doors right now and it would be interesting to see how these technologies evolve and create disruption in the long run. While I have my own apprehensions at this point in time, I do not want to fully undermine the current developments in these emerging technologies.

We have already heard a lot about how the entire recruitment function is being replaced /re-furnished using the Machine Learning technologies, enabling organizations to replicate human conversations, reduce errors in the selection process and screen and hire at a faster pace. From an HRBP perspective, I see Employee engagement as one function which is being automated real time. The once a year annual surveys are replaced with real-time data to measure employee engagement and identify problem areas in real time; this improves the work culture by predicting workforce trends. The insights provided by the AI/ML tools generate a suitable amount of data to help HRBP’s design interventions to retain and motivate existing employees and also recruit new ones. 

The real power of these tools can be experienced when they would be able to combine the historic data with the effectiveness of solutions in the past and help predict or select the best course of action for current business challenges. With the introduction of AI-powered HR chatbots, some of the mundane HRBP roles and responsibilities would be replaced. 

These chatbots offer multiple advances, such as easy accessibility, endless conversation with users, instantaneous responses and strong cross-channel integration. By using bots in HR, employee self-service can be further automated and we are likely to look at voice controlled HR bots that assist employees to complete tasks like apply for leave or check leave balance among others. 

PM: In this changing nature of work, what skills HRBPs need to possess or adapt to be successful 

KV: As mentioned earlier, the pace of change is very rapid and it is very important for HRBP’s to adopt new skills required for the game to be successful. While there are several competencies required, I would like to highlight the ones which I feel are the most important one.

The shift in attitude: With the introduction of various frameworks at the workplace and new expectations being set, it is very important for HRBP’s to adapt to an agile infrastructure and the right technology (the one which is helpful for their organization). This will help them move away from a process-centric, reactive approach to an outcome-based attitude. 

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Be the role model and champion the change in digital transformation across the company:  HRBPs must work closely with leaders to have an overview of what is changing. In the world of digital disruption, HRBPs can help identify early adopters and work with other departments to transfer this know-how. Successful digital operations across the organization can be used as examples to motivate and reward other units and communicate the digital mindset across the board.

Focus on forward-looking design thinking, gamification, and social element programs:  HRBP’s should be able to create a truly comprehensive and unique experience. In order to achieve that, they need to look into cloud solutions and analytics to collect and evaluate data and information while offering mobile solutions for employees that are developed in such a way to include concepts from design thinking, gamification, and social elements.

Change Management: HRBPs need to really work with their business leaders in helping them manage the change occurring as a part of digital evolution. They need to help the organization achieve excellence through the rapid digital process for career development, adoption of new technology, compensation management, L&D, performance, skill enablement etc.

PM: How do you see the HRBP use the HR Analytics capabilities to make data-driven decisions or design interventions based on data. Can you elaborate on a specific example?

KV: HR Analytics capabilities have compelled HRBPs to look at data from a holistic perspective and help business leaders make quick decisions. The use of analytics in HR is growing, with organizations aggressively building people analytics teams, buying analytics offerings, and developing analytics solutions. I believe, HR now has the opportunity to demonstrate ROI on its analytics efforts, helping to make the case for further investment in this area.

The usage of analytics can range from sales performance to recruiting the best talent, measuring productivity, focusing on retention trends, compliance and risk, looking at culture and analyzing employee engagement trends. One example to be considered here is Retention. A lot of organizations are now investing time in collecting data from social networks like Linkedin and other websites to predict the high-flight-risk employees among their high-potential, high-performers. 

The analytics can help HRBPs to work closely with business leaders in creating a plan for retention. Organizations are also experimenting with the smart badges, using these badges to collect data which suggests that open offices with larger shared workrooms and easy of meeting room availability along with more lights and more inter-company collaboration among teams have a better retention. Analytics are helping HRBPs predict attrition based on a certain pattern in a particular cycle for example, after the merit cycle in a particular quarter.

PM: How are organizational structures changing and what impact is it having on the overall HR structure?

KV: With the ever-changing dynamics of the market, organizations are becoming truly agile and placing their bet on several transformational strategies. This rapid development has an effect on the overall structure of the HR especially in light of the digitization. More and more HR functions are becoming leaner and are working in a centralized way. 

Moreover, the need for specialized skills in HR is generating more demand and specialized jobs in the field of HR data analytics amongst others. It would be interesting to see how HR leaders and organizations would embrace this change to be agile enough to sustain and grow in this e-economy. HR leaders today have a challenge to upscale the skill of existing workforce and effectively attract the scarce digital talent from the market.

The views expressed are personal

Topics: Change Management, Technology, HR Technology

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