Intellectual Mirroring: Key Skill HR Business Partners Must Have

What would it be if you were to imagine yourself as an object that represents our HR profession? I would imagine mine to be a full-sized mirror.

Being able to add value is key to every HR practitioner, or every profession for that matter. As an HR Business Partner, my role is to be a trusted advisor to my business leaders; be it in talent attraction, development, performance management, or retention. To add value in these areas, my professional agenda must stay relevant to my clients.

The key question remains regarding the ‘how’. In other words, what specific technique do you think us, as HR professionals, should develop and perfect in order to be relevant to the businesses we support? I believe intellectual mirroring is one key area with the highest leverage.

The word mirroring is commonly known as the psychological bonding gained by mimicking another’s body language. My notion of intellectual mirroring goes beyond that definition. I would expand it to include:

  • Ability to tune in to the client’s perspectives,
  • Ask the right questions, and
  • Reflect upon the issues at hand before offering your perspective and stance

Let’s break it down a little.

Tuning In

For those of us who have ever played a stringed musical instrument, we have to learn how to tune it. For example, to tune a guitar, you have to listen intently to the desired note, and adjust your strings to match that desired note. Similar to how we should listen to our clients, we should be all ears, listening to their tune. And more importantly, not to colour that tune with our own tune if we really want to be in our clients’ shoes. Listening is part of the method, and to complete it, we have to try to see what issue our client is trying to attend to. Clients’ goals are either to fix, solve, avoid, or pursue a certain issue. It is our role to help our clients untangle the information and focus on the main issue at hand.

Ask The Right Questions

Here, I am not referring to the simple questions of what, why, when, where and how. The questions should not just be from the clients’ perspectives, but also about how the other party or parties involved would answer it. This other party may be an employee, peers, stakeholders or even a bigger group in general. Hopefully this encourages our clients to try to see the issue at hand from a holistic perspective, which extends beyond just that of the clients.

On a related note, not only must the questions asked be inclusive, the value of these questions has to be open-ended and of high gain. In other words, these questions should elicit responses that require our clients to respond by analysing, speculating, or expressing their feelings. Examples of such questions may be:

  • What obstacles do you face in reaching your objectives?
  • How would you take charge if you had the influence?
  • How would you prioritise your objectives?

Reflect With Your Perspective And Stand

Highlight key possible resolution routes, and weigh the pros and cons of each route. One method I find useful is to bring my trusty paper notebook, the kind without lines. What I do is synthesize the information I had gathered and place this information into buckets with lines or arrows to create relationships. This note taking process is also helpful for me to quickly jot down questions I have in my mind as my client articulates the issue. When it is time for me to put in my perspectives and stand, I would highlight that information, and also put this information in an order using numbers. With the information mapped out, possible solutions sequenced, and suggested actions created, I then use this as a guide in my discussion with my clients.

In A Nutshell

Since the coining of the notion of HR being 'at the table', numerous operating frameworks have been introduced to advocate such an aspiration. However insightful these frameworks may be, it is the actionable day-to-day client interactions that will substantiate our value-creation agenda. It is that intellectual mirroring technique we use to help our clients to raise the human capital value bar.

This article was published in the Human Resources Magazine October 2013 issue.

HR Insights Sharing with Hong Siu Ming, Total Rewards Expert

Holiday of the Mind - Go Slow to Go Faster