This post in our series about HR Business Partners introduces the need for Business Partners to collaborate in support of delivering optimal client solutions. It has been co-authored with my friend Lukasz Mytnik.  Luk has spent most of his recent career in Compensation and Analytics Center of Excellence (COE) roles.  He is now an HR Business Partner in the Wroclaw, Poland operation of a global insurance company’s Shared Service Center. It is my pleasure to introduce him to our readership.

One of the challenges many HR Business Partners (HRBP’s) find in their work is reconciling the challenges and tensions between HRBP’s and their colleagues in the Compensation COE. Why is it sometimes challenging and why does it pay to build an alliance between roles?  This entry in our continuing series on what it means to be a strategic HRBP will explore how the Compensation COE and the HRBP can better collaborate with each other to enhance their shared impact on their clients.

2020 has been an awful year for many companies and individuals from financial and social connectivity standpoint.  We expect that the 2021 merit cycle will be extraordinarily challenging for many organizations and the HR professionals who have to administer compensation programs.  Thus, the objective of this post is to provide some timely ideas for HRBP’s to consider as they work with their compensation colleagues to manage through a tough environment.

We think it is important to discuss finding the balance between agile and bureaucratic approaches to compensation decisions.  This balance point will also need to take tactics and strategies into consideration. We think this is an especially timely topic as many HR teams around the world head into a challenging 2021 compensation cycle. 

It’s a Balancing Act

Compensation Strategy is often conservative because of budget constraints and other external influences. That is why companies commonly follow the market median as the key benchmark reference point to calculate a “fair base salary” for employees.  But the real world can present situations where tactical considerations push against the guardrails of strategic compensation management.  For example, your direct client – a line manager – might need to attract expensive talent from the competition.  Alternatively, the same manager may find s/he needs to make a counteroffer for a key employee who the competition wants to hire away from you.

As a general rule, it is in the best interest of all business actors to follow the strategic direction of compensation policy. This means respecting the defensive aspects of compensation management like managing within financial limitations.  However, each of the tactical situations mentioned above might require  aggressive compensation decisions. Those decisions can be viewed as exceptions from strategic tenets of compensation policy like following market median or promoting employees only at prescribed periods. On the other hand, if these kinds of situations are increasingly common, it may indicate it is time to challenge strategies that were developed in the past and under different market circumstances.  Regardless, bureaucratic and agile as well as strategic and tactical approaches need to serve delivering financial results

In most HR organizations that have adopted the HRBP/COE model, the HRBP is viewed as the key point of contact for the management team s/he supports. S/he is responsible for understanding the business’ needs and marshalling the resources of the entire HR organization to deliver solutions to address those business needs.

During “normal” or stable times, the Compensation team will assess labor market practices, make recommendations for funding remuneration programs, and work with HRBP’s to implement those programs – once the business has approved budgets and related matters.  In preparing annual merit programs, for example, the Compensation COE will typically prepare guidance that aligns merit pay changes with performance indicators.  This guidance will usually look something like this:

Current Percentile of Range PenetrationRating 1Rating 2Rating 3Rating 4

Where a rating of 1 is the top rating and 4 is the lowest rating.

The most common definition of a percentile is a number where a certain percentage of scores fall below that number (e.g. 50th centile called “median” means that 50% of population gets less and 50% more than this amount)


Easy, right? Just match the percentile to the rating and you have your recommended merit increase percent.   Not so fast.  What do you do if your client has a top performer (rated 1) and s/he is already beyond the 75th percentile of the salary range for their position?   And, to make it a bit more challenging, your client wants to deliver the kind of merit increase that would normally go to someone with the same rating but much lower range penetration. For the sake of this post, we assume the manager’s request is grounded in some solid business reasons.

This could be one of those important pivot points for an HRBP’s relationship with the client and the Compensation COE.  We all know that in many HRBP/COE HR models, the HR Business Partner feels continuous pressure to keep the client “happy”.  In those cases, it would not be unusual for the HRBP to challenge the Compensation COE to explain why the manager cannot go outside guidance.  After all, it’s only “guidance”, right?  Moreover, it’s the manager’s compensation budget, isn’t it?

In a situation like this, the HRBP is tactically shifting ownership of the problem to the Comp COE.  Consciously or not, s/he is seeking to escape the responsibility of leading the client to a satisfactory business decision.  In the long run, this approach will deliver some strategically negative outcomes for the HR business partner.  Among them:

  • It is a missed opportunity to establish problem-solving thought partnership with the manager
  • Just doing what the manager wants does nothing to build mutual respect with the manager.  In fact, we argue it weakens partnership with the line.  If all the manager has to do to get his/her way is demand HR do as requested, then why do we need the HRBP?
  • Pushing the problem to the Comp COE doesn’t build collaboration.  Rather, the Comp COE will likely feel like a victim, hardly the foundation for future partnership.  How receptive will the Comp COE be the next time the HRBP needs help with something?


As an alternative, we’d suggest the business partner do the following:

  • Deeply understand the reasons why the manager wants to take this action
    • Is there a retention risk?
    • Has this employee been a consistently high performer over an extended timeframe? 
    • What are the future prospects for this employee?  Where does s/he sit on the 9-block and why?
    • What is the senior management point of view – on this employee and the requested exception?
  • Once the circumstances are fully understood, the HRBP should explain next steps to the manager without making any promises of a particular outcome.  This is in the spirit of managing the client’s expectations. (We will address managing expectations in a future blog post).  Those next steps should include:
    • Prepare thoughtful and complete briefing notes to share with the Comp team and his/her manager; remember, no surprises.
    • Meet with the Comp team to discuss the situation and explore alternative solutions
    • Come back to the manager within “x” days with a proposed outcome
    • In very business impactful situations (e.g. counteroffer to top talent) try to anticipate the next steps if the proposed solution fails. Demonstrate creative adaptability.
  • Engagement with the Comp team can explore, as examples:
    • A one-off lump sum award or a customized, valuable L&D program for employee instead of a merit adjustment
    • Some compromise on the percentage increase being sought
    • Are there employees – either in the manager’s direct span or in the higher-level manager’s broader organization – who are scheduled for larger increases than the guidance would normally suggest?  Can funds be rebalanced to achieve the manager’s request?
    • Many organizations keep a “holdback” pool of merit money for unusual situations.  Can those funds be tapped into?
    • A combination of these approaches and/or others


Once a solution is agreed between the HRBP and the COE, it’s time to meet with the manager to explain your recommendations.  We believe the HRBP and the COE partner attend this meeting together.  Some of the key reasons for this are:

  • HR should present a unified recommendation.  We don’t want the manager shopping elsewhere in HR for a “better” answer.
  • By sharing the relationship with the manager, it creates a great opportunity to build collaboration with the COE.
  • If the solution represents a significant deviation from past practice, it’s important to build a wall around the circumstances to prevent the unusual action from becoming a precedent.
  • Together, the HRBP and the COE can help the manager prepare for a discussion with the employee about the decision.  You want to create a situation where the manager “owns” the final decision and doesn’t say “HR wouldn’t let me do it”.

In all likelihood, you will need to present a solution that will be suboptimal from the manager’s point of view.  This is probably one of those years where very few people will be genuinely happy with their merit adjustments.  As the business partner, you need to be able to work with the manager so that s/he can logically and unemotionally explain the facts, the logic behind the facts, and the outcome reached.   That discussion can and should also explore other, non-compensation actions the manager can take to recognize the exceptional employee’s contributions.  A few quick examples might include attendance at a professional conference, one or more training programs, flexibility in some other area within the manager’s discretion such as extra time off or assignment to a high visibility project.


The 2021 merit compensation cycle is likely to be one of the most challenging in recent years.  HR Business Partners need partnership and collaboration with their compensation colleagues for both teams to optimize success.  Business partners cannot credibly “blame” the COE’s for tough decisions and the COE cannot hide in the background.   In the eyes of most businesses and senior leadership, they will succeed or fail together.  We hope these ideas will help you prepare for success.


We have a lot more to say about the relationship between the Compensation COE and HRBP’s. The next post in this series will explore some of the different approaches that companies use to align pay programs and pay decisions with company objectives. A Polish language version of this post will be available soon. We’ll post that link when the translation is ready.

About the Authors

Somers HR Solutions, LLC is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners to enhance their organizational impact.  He is dedicated to delivering answers for the real world.

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  He recently completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multigenerational perspective to solving client challenges.

Contact Ken at to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.

?ukasz Mytnik – enthusiast of human relations, behavioral economy and analytical business mindset, in his professional life combining accountabilities of HR Business Partner and Compensation & Benefit Manager.

DISCLAIMER: Every statement of ?ukasz Mytnik written in this article or in the comments to this article express his personal opinion and they should not be associated with his employer AXA XL or with any other official duty that plays a role in his regular employment. ?ukasz wrote this article in his private time (not during working time in AXA XL).

Who’s on First – Talent Acquisition or HR Business Partners?

98 First Base Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock


One of the more common friction points in many Human Resource organizations is the tension between front-line HR Business Partner (HRBP) and the Talent Acquisition (TA) organization.  In this blog post, we will present some ideas for how these teams can work together more effectively.  Our approach is based on experience and what we perceive as common sense. 

Who’s Doing What?

In all likelihood, the business these teams serve has a mission statement and/or a strategy.  The broader HR organization probably has a mission statement aligned at a high level with the business.  But what about Business Partners and Talent Acquisition teams?  If explicit mission statements and long-term strategies and goals are missing or irrelevant, these HR functions are more likely to be in a continuously reactive state.  We therefore argue that every individual HR function needs a mission and talent strategies that are aligned with the rest of HR and the broader business.   Here are two generic examples: one for HRBP’s and one for TA:

HR Business Partners serve as the business unit’s central point of contact for the delivery of all Human Resource services and programs.  In fulfilling this mission, HR Business Partners are expected to blend their HR subject matter expertise with business acumen in order to achieve the organization’s human capital objectives.

Talent Acquisition teams facilitate the processes through which the organization secures the talent it needs in order to fulfill its mission.  In so doing, TA teams must understand their business and its operating environment and translate those insights into strategies that identify, attract, and select the human capabilities the organization needs to achieve its objectives.

Simple, right?  Not so fast.

RACI Charts – What & Why?

Although these examples seem pretty clear about who does what, it’s not so simple.   Absent clearer accountabilities, individual activities will either be duplicated (sometimes with different results) by two people or slip through the cracks while each person assumes the other will execute that task.  As a result, finger pointing will flourish.  That’s where a RACI comes in.  A RACI chart is a simple matrix used to assign roles and responsibilities for tasks, decisions, or processes. By mapping out which roles are involved in each critical task and at which level, you can eliminate confusion and answer the age-old question, who’s doing what? 

A typical RACI for a talent acquisition process will look something like this

TaskHRBPRecruiterHiring ManagerHelpdeskSite AdminAcctg/FinanceDue DateStatus
Define requirementsCAR     
Post jobCRA I   
Identify appropriate CV’sARC     
Set up interviewsARC, I I   
Conduct interviewsARA     
Agree on selected candidateA C, IR I   
Sign offer letterAIIIRC, I  
Prepare workstationIIAC, IRI  
Initial feedbackRCA I   

Every organization that uses a RACI will have their own variation of the chart.  What’s important to note is the clear definition of who is responsible for doing what.  RACI’s are best created in a highly collaborative way between the responsible parties.  That way, each has “bought into” the process by participating and agreeing on the expected outcomes. 

How to Make the RACI Work

Now that you have a RACI, you need to actually make it work.  No RACI can possibly anticipate every variation of things that can go wrong (or right) in a given process.  That’s where Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) enter the picture.  SLA’s are merely agreements between parties that specify what will be done by when and frequently include target dates (as reflected above) or turnaround times for resume reviews, etc.

Just as the RACI, itself, SLA’s are the product of a negotiation between the responsible groups.   They serve as a supplement to the RACI and frequently can help identify glitches in a process.  You can combine SLA’s into a RACI but there is always the risk of overcomplicating things.  Use your judgment and detail a level of specificity that is suitable to your organization and its management culture. 

Managing Expectations

Even in “normal” times, Talent Acquisition is challenging and is typically the work of unsung heroes.  Few will remember when filling a new job goes smoothly. Everyone will remember when things go wrong. Here is where the HRBP should play a supporting role.   We believe the best results are attained when the TA partner leads the recruiting engagement with clients.  The HRBP needs to be aware and up to date so s/he can support the TA team with client insights and as business circumstances shift.  Certainly, at the beginning of a new recruitment engagement, the HRBP and TA representative should partner with the client for an intake meeting to establish the selection criteria and other matters related to filling the position, such as ownership, logistics and timeline.  This enables a situation where:

  • The subject matter expert is in the room to provide information and answer questions;
  • The TA colleague gets more exposure to the business and the client’s talent strategies;
  • The client witnesses that HR is aligned and speaking with one voice (this sometimes helps to discourage the client from shopping for a better answer); and
  • If there are challenges to fulfilling the need, the key players can agree on how to proceed

Concluding Thoughts

If business partners and talent acquisition specialists work together to define who does what, how, and when, the organization can minimize friction and serve the business client best.  Like most areas of HR, success is a team sport.  HRBP’s need to share the ownership of their business relationships and TA teams need to be influencers of the processes by which talent joins the organization.

 About the Authors

Andy Rice is principal and lead strategist at Black Box Consulting, where he works with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations on integrated talent management strategy and planning, talent management transformation, change management, business process improvement, and technology selection and implementations. Andy graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley, and he spent the first five years after graduating as an engineer and engineering manager at Intel.

Contact Andy at to discuss how to optimize or transform all or part of your HR function through a review of your strategy, processes, use of technology and service delivery model.

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  He recently completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multigenerational perspective to solving client challenges.

Somers HR Solutions, LLC is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners to enhance their organizational impact.  He is dedicated to delivering answers for the real world.

Contact Ken at to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.

How do I: Manage Up? Don’t! Do this, instead.

Many of my blogs are triggered by someone asking a question.  That’s the case with this one, as well.  In this situation, a friend is adjusting to some leadership changes in her organization.  My short answer to the question “How Do I Manage Up”? is DON’T.  That is the wrong question.  The better question is How Do I build and/or strengthen my relationship with my manager?  We can boil the answer down to a handful of key principles.

Have a conversation

Maybe you have a new manager or a new job or maybe nothing has changed and you work in a business as usual world.  It is never the wrong time to engage your manager in a conversation about how you two can work (more) effectively together.  But before you begin that conversation, conduct a mini self-assessment by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How do I think the relationship is going?
  • What is working well for me? 
  • Am I delivering at or above my manager’s expectations?  If not, why not and what should I change?
  • Do I need help with some part of my job? 
  • If there was one thing the two of you could change about your relationship, what would it be?

The purpose of this exercise is for you to enter the conversation with a clear understanding of how you feel about things and what, if anything, you want as a result of the conversation. Once you are ready, it’s time to schedule that discussion.  Some starter topics you can use include:

  • How do you (Ms./Mr. Manager) think things are going?
  • Are you comfortable with how we work together? 
  • Do you think we communicate effectively?  If not, what should we change?  Is it a mutual adjustment or do I need to take the lead for any changes?  Can you share one or more examples so I really get it?
  • Is there anything about the way we work together that you want to change? 
  • If there was one thing you could change about our relationship, what would It be?


This is not a post about Active Listening.  That is a subject unto itself.  But that is what you need to do to make the conversation with your manager worthwhile and productive for both of you.  So here are a few tips (without getting into the details of active listening):

  • Hear your manager out before responding – especially if she is offering some constructive feedback as part of the discussion.  The most common active listening mistake people make is to start preparing a response as soon as the other person says anything less than flattering.  It is normal but you have to suspend that behavior if you want to maximize the benefits of the conversation.  Otherwise, you run the risk of not really hearing everything she has to say.
  • Ask clarifying questions if needed.
  • Ask for examples to illustrate the point(s) she is making.
  • Play back what you have heard in your own words.  This allows you to confirm you have understood correctly.  It can also be a “feel good” moment for your manager as it confirms she has communicated effectively with you.
  • Don’t feel that you must respond in the current conversation.  If you have learned something surprising, it is absolutely OK to say something like “Wow.  I didn’t know that or I didn’t see it that way.  I’d like the chance to reflect on your point and discuss it further in a follow up meeting”.
  • If the conversation leads to a realization that you need some help, ask for it. 

Agree on Next Steps

Now that you’re in a dialogue, agree with your manager about what next steps (if any) are appropriate.  What are your individual and shared expectations going forward?  Who will do what? And by when do you expect to check in with each other again on the action points?  I like to send my manager a simple email following this kind of conversation.  The purpose is to assure there is a clear, shared understanding of the discussion and what the next steps are.

Follow Through

If you have agreed on some changes, make sure you do your part of to follow through. The conversation is a starting point in building that relationship.  By delivering on the commitments you made in the conversation you demonstrate you care and are investing in strengthening the relationship.  Following through also builds trust.  I don’t know anyone who says they don’t need more trust in their work relationships.

A Few Additional Tips

No surprises.  You have likely heard this before but it bears repeating.   Don’t let your manager be surprised – by either good news or by a screw-up.  We all make mistakes.  If you’re involved in a mistake, be the one who lets your manager know it.  It is far better for you to report the situation than it is for your manager to be surprised by someone else telling her.

Own the mistake.  It is one thing to report a problem before she hears it elsewhere.  It is another thing to own the problem.  If you are a manager, yourself, maybe someone on your team made the mistake.  Accept responsibility as the manager of that person. 

Have a solution. 

Ideally, when you inform your manager that there is a problem, you can also present a solution.  If you can’t or don’t know how to correct the issue, ask for thought partnership.  But don’t let your current inability to fix it on your own delay letting your manager know what is happening.

Final Thoughts

Building and maintaining a productive relationship with your manager is not a one-off event.  Leverage your investment in the conversation to keep the lines of constructive communication open.  And if you are a manager of people, encourage your folks to do the same with you.  We’re all in this together and it’s a lot more fun to succeed together than it is to be frustrated or unhappy together.

Somers HR Solutions  is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners and business leaders to enhance their organizational impact.  He is passionate about delivering “answers for the real world.”

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as both an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  Ken completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multi-generational perspective to solving client challenges.

If you found this blog useful and/or if you can use some help in addressing a people leadership challenge, contact me at:

+1 508-507-1207 or

Strategic HR Business Partnering – Beyond Organizational Structure

In our most recent post, we began discussing Galbraith’s Star Model of Organizational Design.  We concluded with our view that HR departments have generally overstated the importance of Structure as a critical organizational design feature.  According to research published by Gartner in 2019, less than half (42%) of organizational redesigns are successful and more than a third (37%) take longer than expected.  Our view is these statistics reflect a lack of holistic organizational design planning.   All the various components of Galbraith’s model need to be considered and they must, in the end, be aligned among and between themselves to increase the odds of success.  Therefore, in this post, we will briefly explore three other dimensions of Galbraith’s model as a means to understand, beyond structure and role design, how HR can better evolve to the status of strategic business partner.  The remaining dimensions are Strategy, People Practices, and Rewards & Metrics.  Our approach will be to:

  • Define the design feature and its importance in the bigger picture
  • Discuss some of the design criteria
  • Explain the importance of its linkage to the other elements of the model


Strategy, in its simplest terms, is the identification of the goals, priorities, success factors, and critical capabilities the organization needs to attain success.  Strategy then, is what an organization does – and in many cases chooses not to do – to win its designated markets. Design criteria for strategy includes the observable/measurable operating features and the outcome indicators of success.  By articulating these design criterion, the organization will benefit from increased focus.  With that focus, the organization is guided through conflicting needs and will be able to objectively evaluate alternative design approaches.  At the end of the day, all other dimensions of the Star Model need to be aligned with strategy.  Without a coherent strategy, the deployment of the Star Model will be suboptimized, at best.

For HR practitioners this means starting with the business strategy, not with the HR programs. For example, if a business is trying to better serve and engage customers, a key strategy implication for HR may be shifting the focus from process to customer. HR programs that would support these outcomes may take the form of aligning rewards with customer satisfaction, training for line employees in interpersonal customer relations or developing selection programs that attract people with a high need for affiliation and service.

Some questions practitioners should ask include:

  • What is the clear business strategy?
  • What new capabilities are required?
  • What does success look like?
  • Are there key geographies, products/services, customers, or technologies that need to be considered?
  • Do we keep all processes in house or subcontract some or all?
  • Are there aspects of the strategy that require some form of differentiation or variation across our business?
  • What are the people and organizational implications of the answer to these questions?
  • How does HR align programs, practices and policies that enable individuals and teams to deliver the strategy?

People Practices

Strategy is implemented through and by the organization’s people. People practices consist of identifying what competencies are needed for your business model in your industry.  Supporting the required competencies are the creation of processes to assure the organization has those competencies in the right places and at the right times.  Similarly, people practices need to anticipate the need for meaningful professional and career development opportunities for the people who are implementing strategy.  Finally, but certainly not least, people practices must include the roadmap to enable effective leadership at all levels of the organization. 

With COVID, there has been (and will be) an evolution of design criteria for People Practices.  We suggest that some new and important criteria now include consideration of both where and how work is done.  From a leadership perspective, what new, changed, or enhanced capabilities are needed – by both people managers and staff – in a world when a manager regularly sees her/his people only through a video connection.  

Some questions for practitioners include:

  • What new or changed competencies are needed to realize the strategy?
  • Can we build those competencies, or do we need to buy them, i.e., do we need to change our staffing model?
  • What is the framework of the employment relationship?  Think of values, expectations, obligations.  Said another way, does the organizational redesign impact our culture?  If so, how and what should be done about it.
  • How to build engagement and manage the change(s)


This area of the Star Model deals with the tools and processes used to motivate behaviors and acknowledge successes at the individual, team, and organizational unit levels. 

Representative questions for practitioners include:

  • Does the performance assessment process provide the kind and quality of feedback our people need to achieve their and the organization’s objectives?
  • Does the reward system deliver the differentiation needed to motivate “above and beyond?” behavior in our key contributors?
  • Is the reward system relevant?  Think about your demographics.  How have they changed and what is the trajectory of the changes you are almost certainly experiencing?
  • Are there valuable, non-financial ways of recognizing success?


Business Intelligence (BI) as a discipline within the HR world is still very much in an emergent state but deployments are expanding rapidly.   Opportunities to leverage existing stores of unrelated data abound.  Some of the challenges HR Business Partners need to overcome in using BI techniques include:

  • Is the available raw data “clean”?  Is it accurate and up to date?
  • In a world that is increasingly focused on protection of data privacy, how do I access and manipulate only the data I need.  This principle of “Data Minimization” is a key feature of the European Union’s GDPR regulations and is an often-overlooked risk that HR teams need to manage.
  • How to define the relationships between bits of discrete data to make analysis easier and more accurate
  •  What tool(s) to use analyze and represent the findings of our analyses?  Our experience is that simple is frequently better. 
  • How to integrate analytics into the HRBP’s interactions with her client base


To establish oneself as a genuinely strategic HR Business Partner, the practitioner needs to have a command of how the various elements of Ulrich’s model interact.  Think of your high school biology classes.  When you pushed against a wall of an amoeba, it tended to pop out opposite the pressure point.  The same is true of using Ulrich’s model.  If you overbalance one dimension at the expense of another, your solution will be suboptimal.  All the components of the strategy need to be in harmony with one another. Ideally, they are mutual reinforcing.

In our next post we will return to an exploration of how we can use the dynamics of these models to harmonize the individual and collective goals of HRBPs, COEs and Service Centers to deliver on the promise of strategic business partnering.

About the authors:

Louis Scenti is the Founder and President of Cognoscenti Associates, a consultancy specializing in executive and leadership coaching and organizational consulting. Prior to founding Cognoscenti Associates, Louis worked for more than 30 years as a practitioner of leadership development, organization development and talent management for several premier financial services firms, most recently as the Chief Talent Officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

He is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies in the Human Capital Management Masters Degree program. 

Somers HR Solutions  is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners and business leaders to enhance their organizational impact.  He is passionate about delivering “answers for the real world.”

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as both an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  Ken completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multi-generational perspective to solving client challenges.

We hope you have found this series on Strategic HR Business Partners useful.  We invite your feedback.  And If you can use some help in addressing a people leadership challenge, contact us at: +1 508-507-1207

How Do I: Onboard a Remote New Colleague?

A former colleague recently asked me for some advice on this topic.  There are literally millions of answers out there on the web.  In fact, a simple Google search yielded more than 18 million hits – and that was with a properly formatted Boolean search!  The rest of this post will reflect my own personal experience and suggestions based a combination of both successes and failures in onboarding a remote employee.  I am intentionally ignoring the Orientation process which is typically managed and delivered by the HR organization.  Orientation is most commonly about the organization’s rules.  Rules are certainly part of a company’s culture but there is a lot more.


In many ways, this is the most important factor when thinking about how to onboard a newly hired remote person.  There are as many different company cultures as there are companies.  Every company has a culture – whether they recognize it as such or not.   And many teams within the company have their own particular manifestation of the company culture.  There is no way to address every permutation of culture in this post but at the team or department level you can boil the thought process down into a few critical questions:

  • What do we care about?
  • What do we measure and why?
  • What does success look like for this job?
  • How do we respond when people make mistakes?
  • What is more important – the what or the how (I reject the notion that both are equally important – one always trumps the other in a pinch)?

Once you’ve answered those questions about the broader company culture, ask the same questions about your department or team.  Lastly, ask the same questions of yourself as the manager.  Hopefully, the answers will largely align.  If they do not you probably have a different and bigger problem than onboarding a remote employee.  But that’s a subject for another day.  

The Work:

Clearly, one of the most important elements of a successful onboarding plan for any new hire is for her ability to learn her job so she can successfully meet the objective performance criteria.  Based on your experience leading the team, what is the best way for someone to learn the job?  Consider reflecting on other new hires in the relatively recent past.  What experiences differentiated successful new hires from those who may have struggled?  Do any patterns emerge?  What can you learn from those experiences that will help this new person ramp up quickly?

A Buddy:

I’m a big fan of assigning a buddy to every new hire.  This can be especially important during our COVID times when the new hire does not have the benefit of the informal mentoring that happens when we are all together in a traditional workplace.  During normal times, mountains of behavioral information is accumulated just by being in an office and witnessing how others behave under different circumstances.  It is a mentoring experience because the new hire is being taught.  It’s informal because typically, it’s not a planned process.  We just expect people to figure it out – until they don’t.

That’s where the buddy comes in.  The buddy is there to:

  • Help teach the new hire how to do the job
  • Answer routine questions about how to get stuff done
  • To identify subject matter experts the new hire may need to tap into
  • Help the new hire navigate all the stuff that is not written down anyplace
  • Explain and orient the new hire to the behaviors and work habits that will yield success

Selecting a Buddy:

Once you’ve answered the questions posed at the beginning of this post – at all 3 levels, you should be well positioned to select a buddy for your new hire.  Here are some considerations and suggestions for making that decision.

  • Pick someone who aspires to be a people manager.  Being a buddy is a wonderful development opportunity for someone who wants to be a people manager.  After all, what is a manager?  In my view, a manager is one who gets work accomplished through the efforts of others.  (And yes – I am drawing a big distinction between manager and leader).
  • If you do not have the luxury of having a non-manager available or ready, choose an existing manager who will benefit from the experience.
  • Be clear with the buddy about what you expect him/her to accomplish with the new hire
  • Agree on a new hire work plan with the buddy.  What should the new hire learn and by when?  Is the new hire new to your industry?  Does she need to learn the vocabulary of your business?  Does your company live and breathe acronyms all day?  Is your company one that loves to have lots of meetings?  How should the new hire behave in all those meetings?  Are they expected to contribute or just listen?  I could enumerate many more examples, but I think you get the idea.  Your buddy needs to be the new hire’s guide to figuring it all out in a way that will make that new hire successful as quickly as possible. 
  • How will the two of you assess the new hire’s success at some key milestones?  If it was not already established as part of the new hire selection process, have the buddy work with the new hire to identify how the new person learns best.  The work plan should be adjusted as much as possible to accommodate the new person’s learning style.
  • Agree with the buddy on how you will evaluate her success as a buddy?  If you’re using the assignment of a buddy as that development opportunity, what do you want the buddy to learn?
  • This is a big deal!  Do not assign a buddy to be your spy!  I once worked for a company who typically used the new hire buddy system to great effect.  However, my own buddy (when I was a new hire) felt compelled to share every adjustment concern or complaint I had with our shared manager.  I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble figuring out how that felt and the avoidable complexity it created once I learned what was happening.  That does not mean the buddy should be silent if there is a problem.  Quite to the contrary, if the new hire is struggling, early intervention can save the day.  Bottom line on this point – select a buddy who has the maturity to know when there is a problem that needs attention as distinct from someone who uses the buddy program  to advance their own interests at the possible expense of the new hire.

Onboarding During COVID Times

All the above applies. Being remote does not eliminate or change any of the above recommendations.  What does need to change is your behavior as a manager. A key outcome from a successful onboarding is the establishment of trust.  Trust between the new hire and his/her teammates and trust between you as the manager and the new hire.   It’s pretty common for a team manager to check in with new hires fairly frequently.  After all, you want the new teammate to be successful.  It’s almost always more efficient and cheaper to invest in a new person’s success than it is to experience a failure in hiring.  Selection and the consequences of failing to hire the right people is a topic for another day.

But during these COVID times, it’s important for the manager to reach out more frequently – at least until the new hire is settled and that mutual trust is established.   You’ll each have your own criteria for what settled means.  I urge managers of new hires to:

  • Use video connections – who doesn’t have access to ZOOM or TEAMS or some other video conferencing capabilities these days?
  • Make sure key onboarding milestones are achieved.  Examples include:
    • New hire orientation
    • Any required legal or regulatory training
    • Review and acknowledgement of company policies/confidentiality agreements
    • IT security rules (more important than ever as more and more of us work remotely for extended periods)
    • Etc.

I’m emphasizing these routine items because they ARE important.  But more particularly, I consider the absence of or tardiness in completing them as a yellow flag.  Something is not quite right if the new hire either does not or cannot satisfactorily complete these standard procedures.  The buddy can help but the manager is accountable.  Observing body language in a video call works both ways.  It will help you identify nonverbal queues in the new hire.  And if the new hire can more easily see you too, it makes it easier for her to identify when something is troubling you.  Video connections will support the creation and cultivation of shared trust.

Feedback and Final Thoughts

Constructive, honest, timely, and accurate feedback is absolutely critical to successful onboarding.  Use your video check ins with your new hire to provide these nutrients of success.  I like to frame feedback in the form of 4 bullet discussion points per item:

  • What happened or how things are going (good or not so good)
  • Why it’s important I’m providing feedback on this item – how the situation impacts work or others (or both)
  • Use one or two specific examples to illustrate the why
  • Specify what you want the new hire to differently (or to keep doing) and (if appropriate) when you want the change to be effective

Effective new hire onboarding is critical to the new person’s success.  Done well, it can accelerate a person’s impact and contributions. At its worst, a failed onboarding costs you time, money, and aggravation.  It’s worth the investment of time to do it right.

If you found this post useful and/or if you can use some help in addressing a people leadership challenge, contact me at:

+1 508-507-1207