Outcomes from a masterclass hosted by FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance

At an FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance event in Madrid in February 2018, Dr Robert Rosenfeld, a member of our global education network, delivered a masterclass to HR and L&D professionals from some of Spain’s leading companies on how they can play a key role in driving change within their organisations.

Over the course of the morning, Dr Rosenfeld’s interactive approach helped tease out the core concepts and processes of internal consultancy for HR business partners, with participants working in groups to help identify the skills required to carry out internal consultancy and discussing actions that can help support initiatives in their companies.

Below are some corporate learning insights that emerged from the event:

Internal vs external consultancy

HR business partners are often the most senior HR professionals within the department, with experience of putting points across to senior leaders on a regular basis.

As internal consultants, HR business partners have a better understanding of the organisation they advise, making them essential in the implementation of strategic change trajectories or culture transformations, managing processes and projects within the organisation. Internal consultants already have relationships with other employees within the organisation, improving communication. ‘The advantage of internal consultants is that they are more often involved with the realisation of their own advice and can continue to play an important role even after the implementation.’

Moving from outputs to outcomes

As traditional companies struggle to adapt to the new realities increasingly shaping the business environment (digital transformation, liquid organisations, big data, AI and machine learning…), HR needs to be more effective rather than efficient, focusing on enabling rather than compliance. In short, HR professionals must be prepared to be disruptive and to take on the role of ‘trouble-maker’.

The HR business partner’s job is to communicate the financial value and future worth of person-centred policies to the company’s leadership, while communicating high-level decisions to other members of the HR department and the whole organisation. ‘They take the long view, whereas the CEO may only be looking a couple of years down the road.’

HR business partners must be organisation enablers who will champion change, curate human capital and steward total rewards.

They are also delivery enablers, overseeing compliance, interpreting analytics and integrating technology and media.

The core competencies of the HR business partner are:

  • Strategic positioner: HR professionals must be aware of and able to translate external business trends into internal organisation actions. They need to understand the general business conditions that affect their industry and target and serve key customers of their organisation by segmenting customers, knowing customer expectations and aligning organisation actions to meet customer needs. Their job is also to co-create their organisation’s strategic response to business conditions and customer expectations by helping frame and make strategic and organisation choices.
  • Paradox navigator: Navigating paradox requires embracing new tensions and encouraging dialogue that encourages organisational agility. Instead of focusing on ‘either/or’, paradoxical thinking emphasises ‘and/also’ thinking to keep pace with change.
  • Credible activist: HR professionals who are credible but not activists will have little impact. Similarly, activists who are not credible may have ideas, but nobody listens to them. HR business partners need to be trusted, respected, admired and listened to, but above all have a point of view and take a position.

A model for internal consulting

Dr Rosenfeld outlined an eight-step internal consulting process for HR business partners:

  1. Client expectations: define needs and objectives, build the business case, create trust.
  2. Contracting: McKinsey’s 7S components: strategy (a plan of action); systems (how we’re going to do this); structure (who reports to who); style (leadership approach); shared values (company culture, mindsets); skills (identifying and developing competencies); staff (attitudes, motivation).
  3. Initial information and assessment: interviews, drilling down; asking the five whys.
  4. Preliminary analysis and report back: Fear of change. Focus on possible client rejection of proposals; problem solving and guidance toward goals.
  5. Stakeholder management and buy-in: identifying the influencers in the organisation; developing a stakeholder relationship plan.
  6. Targets and tactics: maintaining momentum to drive change; establishing a sense of urgency; force field analysis: identifying driving forces and restraining forces at individual and organisational level; managing tension.
  7. Implementation schedule: feedback on change; anticipating change; discussing missed opportunities for change.
  8. Evaluation and learning: after action review: What was supposed to happen? What really happened? The expectation gap. What can we learn from this?

Finally, some thoughts to take back to the workplace …

‘Think entrepreneurially, learn from failure and try stuff out….’ Ask the following questions:

Am I using the appropriate techniques to influence internal clients?

How can I balance organisational tension in my area?

How can I enhance my trustworthiness in a consulting role?

How can I enhance support and commitment from stakeholders?

What can I try out as an experiment?

Is our current HR business model viable for the future?

How can I be a more effective internal consultant?

How will I adapt my approach to suit the local context?How can Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance help?

About the educator
Dr Robert Rosenfeld is an experienced educator and facilitator, helping senior leaders in organisations define and implement strategies that deliver sustainable business value. As an entrepreneur, he combines a practical commercial perspective with his approach to leadership, formulating and implementing strategy, change management and business growth. Throughout his career, Robert’s teaching, consulting and research activities have focused on understanding the processes of driving strategic change and enhancing competitive positio