Article: The changing role of HR Business Partner: Ashutosh Labroo

Life @ Work

The changing role of HR Business Partner: Ashutosh Labroo

In his role at BMA, Ashutosh is in process of mentoring a highly diverse & dynamic team which is in process of continuously loving change & making BMA a Great Place to Work. They are also together building a credible, high delivery Global HR function to support and drive the organizational vision, values & culture.
The changing role of HR Business Partner: Ashutosh Labroo

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. As per Sierra Cedar HR systems survey 2017-18, most large organizations are looking 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.

Traditionally the HRBP role has been the role focused on getting things done within the business unit designed by the COE while also representing the business interests in the COE design process. 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.

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 Ashutosh Labroo, Group Chief Human Resource Officer at BMA International, a large Group in GCC region with three popular Fashion brands i.e. REDTAG, twenty4 & MYC. Together these three brands have 250+ retail outlets employing more than 7000 employees across six GCC countries. 

In his role at BMA, Ashutosh is in process of mentoring a highly diverse & dynamic team which is in process of continuously loving change & making BMA a Great Place to Work. They are also together building a credible, high delivery Global HR function to support and drive the organizational vision, values & culture. 

Ashutosh has recently published a book, “Being Great: Leadership and Organizational Cultures – VUCA, A Time for Greatness.” It draws from his global experience and shares a manuscript to build and become a great leader and build great cultures. 

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

AL: To be honest, I believe HRBP’s role as it exists today, doesn’t communicate the importance of the role clearly. It remains in most companies, the role of someone who is supporting everyone else’s initiative & is making sure everyone else succeeds; which is great because a good HRBP is a respected & admired individual. However, the change that is staring at us in last few years will force to challenge this definition. HRBP of past was supposed to sometimes mother and/or be the father of employees within.

Today HR is in the middle of a huge disruption & I see a huge revolution coming in next few years which will shake the very foundation of HRBP role. I am hopeful that in its own way that revolution will re-energize the importance of the HR’s key role(s) and bring it to the center of focus everywhere. 

Organizations worldwide have to recognize that the HRBP role is no longer a partner, but a transformation agent & it will be forced to ask for a voice to challenge, debate, argue & concur its value by the kind of change it can steer.

In my own way, in my role, I see myself as BMA’s Chief Transformation Officer & not as the Chief HR Officer. My MD & CEO Mr Arif Shaikh also sees the role with the same lens and that helps greatly.

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

AL: I am a firm believer in the idea that HR of future is about being expert at leading people & technology together & not one versus the other. We can’t fight technology any longer & look at it as a threat & we certainly can’t get away by saying “I am great with people, do I really need to know this as well”. 

Digitization is not a wave or a need anymore; it will be like oxygen in future. Also with all the digitization projects I steered in my career till date, one thing is quite clear; it doesn’t impact any one area. 

Digitization impacts everything:

  1. Employee Life Cycle – Complete cycle from; This includes the following - acquiring talent, inducting, engaging, performing on KPIs developing competencies and/ or role-related skills, career planning, succession planning, dashboarding, MIS and reporting etc.

  2. Speed – It can increase speed phenomenally so HR has to be supremely agile to deal with the excess increased pace due to digitized solutions at hand

  3. Process & SOPs – It can change your own old & internally preferred logics & SOPs & HR, therefore, has to adapt to a new way of working

  4. Transparency –Generally we HR practitioners hide and conceal a lot more than we reveal in the name of confidentiality. My personal style is brutally straight.

  5. Measurable – For ages HR has got away by saying, everything we do cannot be measured. I think everything we do is measurable; it is just that we are not looking or committed to being measured. 

I believe I generally see people shocked due to that. I tell as I see. I think it is the best way to be when you do not need to hide or be afraid to reveal something as with digitization transparency should be our way to be as digitization will bring people closer to our actions & people will hold us accountable to our words.

I often hear People KPIs are impossible to be measured and how can you measure if this training or that training is helping and if the Performance Management Program of ours is useful or not. I think everything we do is measurable and I have seen the power of digitization being a supreme force to help us in being able to connect the dots of what we do with the organization’s purpose.

During my SKF & ISS days, I was fortunate to drive two large digitization projects and they were both immensely successfully & helped both organizations reap immense infinite benefits from the whole process in all the 5 areas.

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

AL: My favorite phrase here is Adopt & Adapt. HR will be first threatened for existence and then forced to be revolutionized. It will face a huge challenge of an identity crisis especially in hugely analogue environments (cultures, where digitization is still not welcome). However, the function’s bearings are in the right place. Robots don’t & can’t have a genuine heart. You can robotize emotions but you can certainly not robotize human touch & human feelings. The human feelings and physical presence is an essential element of us being human after all. Robotics will and can bring us to precision but precision is not a driver of PASSION. 

Passion and internal motivation are linked with our superior performance on the job. HR will and can do exceedingly well by embracing the digitization wave as a friend and adopt it. Yet, it needs to stay emotionally intelligent to support the motivational and engagement needs of employees in the current disruptive times. 

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

AL:  The way I see it, following skills would be useful for an HRBP to progress in this changing environment - 

  1. Listening Skills

  2. Be ready to change – Everyone in HR talks of change till the time it affects them personally. Today’s changes call for HR also to be coached and mentored for embracing the kind of change that is happening around.

  3. Openness to unlearn and relearn.

  4. Embrace Technology and don’t be scared to be taught (even by much younger teams)

  5. Invest in upgrading skills yourself, if your company is still not sure (especially in skills like Analytics, Dash-boarding and Futuristic HR Systems etc.)

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

AL: Even though there are companies that are doing world class stuff in HR Analytics, we still have many companies in Stone Age here. During my own two digitization journeys, it took me a huge amount of time to find resources for the project. However, it is so powerful a field to not fully leverage & I will give just two examples of two specific areas in HR:

TALENT ACQUISITION: From Quality of Sourcing, Screening, Filtering Criteria, Evaluating on Competencies, Short listing, Panel Tracking to Final Offers; today’s tools do all these steps and with the amazing science of tracking and reporting actions, personality, profiling and human psychology being used. You can slice and dice the data points at any stage vis-à-vis past experience, age, experiences, assessment scores, competency scores, panel lead time to interview etc.


This involves the following – 

  1. Identifying a training need

  2. Converting that need into a calendar program

  3. Publishing calendars

  4. Inviting nominations

  5. Arranging the training event

  6. Capturing post training feedbacks

  7. Tracking the learners post a program for a period of 6 months

  8. Being assessed on the job post the program

  9. Collecting and interpreting feedback from the concerned managers or even 360 degrees of the learners

  10. Collecting data on utilization & impact of the program.

All these inputs and aspects are today tracked in a strong analytics backed framework.

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

AL: I don’t see enough still being done on this. Like I said before, I do not see a CHRO role anywhere; I think a CHRO will become the Chief Transformation Officer for the company. I think we are somewhere in the middle of this realization and the ones who have understood this transition are already in full swing to adopt & adapt. 

A few big changes I brought in my structures were to:

  1. Hire a Chief Learning Officer mandated to create a Learning Organization;

  2. Hire a Head of HR to drive HR Operations across the group

  3. Hire a Digital HR Services Leader to drive & build the digitization HR Services model for BMA. 

All these changes have therefore allowed me to be the backend for all three of these leaders and also allowed me to be the anchor of transformation.

All these changes are already in ADOPT or ADAPT stages so we are definitely running towards the milestones & hopefully we will achieve them too.  

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Topics: Life @ Work, HR Technology, Technology, Strategic HR

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