The new paradigm of HR business partners

Raamann Ahuja, Senior Director HR for Thermo Fisher Scientific in SE Asia and Taiwan, talks about how HR business partners can create more strategic impact.
By: | January 17, 2018

Being a business manager of people

Please tell us more about your role at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

As the HR leader for Thermo Fisher’s operations in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, I am also an HR business partner for leadership across commercial, operations and shared service teams. The role spans 11 countries across the region and approximately 1700 employees, and provides  me with a unique opportunity to engage with the organization’s most valuable assets: our employees. The HR leader role is like any other business leader where our business is people, who are critical for successful business outcomes.


What do you see the goal of HR business partners as being?

The role of the HR business partner is to align the people agenda with company’s business growth strategy through talent acquisition, talent management and development, or enhancing our leadership capabilities to achieve long-term business goals. It’s about linking employee strategy to business strategy specifically – and not vice-versa. For example, if you want to continue the business growth agenda, the only answer may not be additional hiring! The answers will come from considering other aspects including what are our real business challenges? What is the changing landscape in our industry/business lines? How do we improve our existing back-end processes? How do we upskill employees to be more productive without getting stressed out? We need to take a more holistic and business oriented approach.

Most HR professionals are familiar with the Dave Ulrich model which talks about four different roles (strategic partner, change agent, employee champion and administrative expert) that HR has to play. I think a lot of businesses, and even HR professionals, confuse that model, thinking all of us need to be change management agents or strategic partners. The reality is, even basic HR transactions and payroll are important functions from an employee experience perspective. The employee experience is as valuable as the customer experience for the company.

Not only do you need to be operationally strong, you also need to have a strategic focus which is “business oriented” and let’s not forget our business is people.


How have perceptions of HR business partners evolved?

The more tradition view of HR has been more operationally-focused or as someone who is able to deal with the “softer” side of business because HR professionals tend to have a positive outlook and are gracious. But today, CEOs are relying on their HR leaders as critical partners in building and maintaining the success of the business. Now they’re wondering: How do I leverage my HR partner more as a business partner? How can HR be the CEO’s trusted and strategic partner? More and more HR professionals now have a seat at the table which is duly earned with credible value add to business.


What is your biggest concern today, as someone living and breathing the HR Business Partner function?

One of my concerns is whether HR professionals are preparing themselves from the changes in technological disruption and further enhancing the impact on the business they support.

Most often we want to be strategic without knowing the ground level realities of business. I would recommend that HR professionals meet their frontend teams regularly and if possible, get out into the field to meet the customers. In fact, this used to be the traditional, and one of the main ways HR professionals would learn the business. But somewhere in our rush to be strategic, we have missed the finer nuances and subtleties of learning the business by rolling up our sleeves; some of those fundamentals have been lost.


How do you see the role evolving in this climate of disruption?

I do think technology will give HR partners more time to evaluate our potential impact on business, and better analyse where we can make smarter decisions with a smaller margin of error. In doing so, this will give us more time to truly own a business linked people agenda.

I hope a lot of us operate just as a business unit president does, and be more accountable to the CEO. As strategic HR partners, the role will evolve where we will perform like the CEO, enabling human capital solutions for their company. The HR role will evolve to create more impact and a higher return on investment.


How exactly do you envision technology helping you in your job?

As an example, I envision technology helping us with smart analytics and providing more accurate data in a much shorter time frame. The future belongs to apps like Siri or Alexa, where a manager will ask questions like, “What’s my attrition data for the last three months?  “How is my employee engagement score looking?” The artificial intelligence would share meaningful data and also suggest trends such as a region / country that is having issues; a particular leader who is losing a lot of employees, etc.  that will save both the Manager and HR partner a lot of time. It will  also help evolve the expectation of business manager from the value add that HR partners can bring to the table, enable more meaningful discussion to partners who support businesses and further help HR become an effective partner.


What do you see as some competencies that HR Business Partners should focus on for maximum strategic impact?

In today’s complex world I’d say there are five core competencies HR professionals need to be mindful of:

1.    Business acumen: An understanding of the ‘bare bones’; the HR tools and systems, and the business growth strategy of your company.

2.    Analytical reasoning: the ability to reason, analyse data and read trends.

3.    Organisational agility: the ability to navigate through the matrix of the organisational layers, and to create a social network and relationships within the company that enable collaboration and business success.

4.    Consulting ability: understanding the business, talking the business language, and providing meaningful consultation to the business rather than superficial advice.

5.    Change management leadership: Are we really equipped to learn how to manage change within or around our organisations? Your organisation may not be changing, but the world around us is. Hence, how do we help business teams manage that?


What do you hope delegates to the Strategic HR Business Partner Congress to take away from your presentation?

Today HR is as critical a function as finance and core to business success. We are the advisors to the business leaders and share the responsibility with the CEO/business leader in ensuring the company has a highly functioning and capable executive team. HR partners must be more courageous, have a point of view and be proactive. Remember to be, and act, as the business manager you were hired to be.


About Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $20 billion and approximately 65,000 employees globally. Our mission is to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. We help our customers accelerate life sciences research, solve complex analytical challenges, improve patient diagnostics, deliver medicines to market and increase laboratory productivity. Through our premier brands – Thermo Scientific, Applied Biosystems, Invitrogen, Fisher Scientific and Unity Lab Services – we offer an unmatched combination of innovative technologies, purchasing convenience and comprehensive services. For more information, please visit