The role of an HR Business Partner during COVID-19

​ By Agnes Yeboah, HRBP at Bank Windhoek

As a people and change champion, the role of the human resource business partner (HRBP) is critical in these unprecedented times. COVID-19 has disrupted how we do things; from how we conduct business, to how we play with our children, how we shop and stay connected with one another. The effect of this global pandemic has been felt by all and the ramifications will continue for a long time.  


HRBPs are strategic partners to business and act as the primary contact for the human capital department. This strategic role necessitates that they share, advocate and facilitate the implementation of HR and strategic business objectives. HRBPs bridge the gaps that exist between plans and implementation with the use of established people networks. They also act as change agents, spearheading change management initiatives in organisations and provide guidance through coaching leaders, line managers and employees to prepare them to suitably function in their portfolios. 


One of the most visible and important actions of HRBPs in this respect is acting as a bridge between business and employees. In other words, HRBPs simultaneously champion the interests of both employees and business and work toward creating a symbiotic relationship within the organisation. To be effective in delivering on these, HRBPs need to be knowledgeable and understand the business and its strategic relevance; remain focused on relevant and significant matters such as what drives the bottom line, what keeps business leaders and managers up at night so they can offer solutions to leverage the challenges; and facilitate in aligning strategy to people capacity.  


Disruptions and change are not new to the business landscape, however, the depth and reach of the impact of COVID-19 is astronomical. Hence it calls for HRBPs to be more mindful, agile, and sympathetic in how to deliver on these expectations. HRBPs need to be intrapreneurial (a manager within a company who promotes innovative ways of working) leaders, that is, self-motivated, proactive, and action-oriented, individuals who take the initiative to pursue innovative approaches to service delivery. More now than ever, HRBPs need to coach leaders and managers to keep employees safe, secure, hopeful, motivated and committed.


HRBPs need to move closer to their people, provide clear directions and expectations and be factual yet empathetic when consulting business and people. It cannot be emphasised how vital communication is during this time. Therefore, having regular and relevant check-ins with team members, managers, and leaders to enhance connectedness, which strengthens relationships and promotes trust is of vital importance.


Mental health is oftentimes overlooked in the grand scheme of employee wellness, hence HRBPs ought to facilitate and promote health and ensure that the mental and overall health of their clients are optimal and be sensitive to the needs of those who need remedial interventions.  


Some organisations within certain sectors have had to restructure and retrench people because of the pandemic. These efforts to try and keep business afloat has led to unemployment in large numbers. Encouraging self-development in acquiring new skills, especially cross-training, to employees will help them to remain employable and marketable. COVID-19 has changed the way in which we work and has highlighted severe gaps in many instances within our differing categorisations and is forcing us to rethink our approaches to work, relationships and health.


It is important therefore for HRBPs to provide safe platforms for stakeholders to have pertinent and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about how things will be going forward. HRBPs need to take the lead in guiding the conversations that will uncover how best people and business remain efficient, effective, and sustainable as we navigate this unpredictable new business terrain.

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