[On-Demand] The Evolving Role of the HRBP

[On-Demand] The Evolving Role of the HRBP

By | July 15, 2022

Naphtali Bryant, Director, HRBP at Netflix, discusses how the role of HRBP has evolved, and how it must continue to evolve to support teams amid continual change

Since the beginning of the pandemic, teams have experienced massive changes in how they work — from going hybrid or remote to restructuring. How have these changes affected their performance? And, how must the role of Human Resources Business Partners evolve to support teams in this new environment?

In his role as Director, HRBP at Netflix, Naphtali Bryant is a strategic partner to business units and senior leadership, deploying employee enablement and organizational development initiatives to help teams and their leaders overcome the challenges they face and achieve their business objectives.

Naphtali is also the partner with whom AIIR developed and piloted AIIR Enterprise Team Effectiveness — a scalable team effectiveness solution now used at dozens of organizations around the world.

In this conversation with AIIR Head of Team Effectiveness Dave Gloss, Naphtali discusses how the roles of HR and the HRBP have evolved over the past decade, and how they must continue to evolve in the future. He also talks about the challenges teams face now, how HRBPs can both understand and help leaders overcome these challenges, and how Netflix is scaling team effectiveness across its organization.

Watch the interview, or read the full transcript of their conversation below.

Read the full transcript below:

Dave Gloss: So hello, everybody. Again, Dave Gloss here, the head of our Team Effectiveness practice at AIIR. We have a really exciting conversation today with Naphtali Bryant from Netflix, who’s been a great partner, colleague, I would even say has becoming more of a friend in this work, as we support teams over at Netflix and beyond. We’re going to talk today, really, not just about what we do within Team Effectiveness, but specifically the role, and evolving role, of the HR Business Partner in serving teams at organizations, what that means for the future of our work, what that means for the future of teams. And as we think about how things have evolved over the last couple of years related to COVID, and how people are moving to hybrid environments, and what it means for the future as we navigate potentially challenging economic times, we’re all really serving new roles, new functions. And the HR Business Partner, and HR in general, over the last decade-plus has fought diligently and effectively at getting its seat at the table. And now that we do have the seat at the table, we’re not just a cost center but a true strategic investment, what do we do with that to make sure that we’re building really strong inclusive cultures? That people feel where they belong, and they can contribute, are getting personal value and satisfaction while also delivering results, and hitting high levels of performance and hitting the bottom line? So without further ado, I want to introduce Naphtali Bryant, who’s here with us coming in from California. I’m on the East Coast, so thanks for the early morning start, Naphtali.

Naphtali Bryant: No problem.

Dave Gloss: Yeah. So Naphtali, introduce yourself. Tell us a little about your work, your life. And then we’ll talk about what the role of HR VPs are, and what they can be.

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. Thanks, Dave, I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. My name is Naphtali Bryant. I’m an HR VP director here at Netflix. Been in the learning org development, HR space, for almost 19 years now. Really been focusing on working with leaders and teams, to ultimately create environments and cultures where we can thrive toward meeting our business objectives. I’m a family man. I have two boys, a four-year-old who will be five next month in July, Jeremiah. I have a 23-month-old who will be two in July as well, Judah. And I’ve married to my lovely wife, Kayla, for the past six years. So really excited to have this conversation with you, Dave.

Dave Gloss: Thank you, [inaudible]. And what I love about you is not only the diversity of thought that you bring to this, given sort of your personal background and the work that you’re doing, but there’s been something that I’ve really admired. You’re very clear about what you believe. You have conviction in what you think the role of HR partners are, and what it means to really build a strong learning development function, what it really means to build a strong support for teams. Tell me. Where does that come from? Where does that conviction come from for you?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah, I think as a kid who was raised by, one of six kids raised by a single mother, my father was never there, I always tried to focus on how can I hustle, be grateful, and always keep going, have some level of momentum in my life to move forward in spite of challenges. And really thinking about how I can impact people’s lives. And I think through this work, I get an opportunity to do that every day. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s the drive that I have to just make a difference in this world, and in the world of work. And so that’s some of what drives me. And just this desire to do something that hasn’t been done before. Break down walls, break down barriers, and inspire others to do the same.

Dave Gloss: Awesome. So, let’s create some context for folks. What are the types of teams that you’re working with? What is the day like, and what’s your focus now in the role?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. It’s interesting. Because I feel like the HR Business Partner role is such a critical role to helping organizations achieve business objectives. And the thing I think about as an HR Business Partner is I want to be that trusted coach. I want to be a strategic advisor. I want to be that data storyteller, to be able to provide insights and data to the leaders and teams that I support. And I also want to be that embedded kind of voice, where I can have an independent voice, where I can share my thoughts and insights. But I also can be a part of the various teams that I support. So the types of teams that I support at Netflix, leadership teams, so those are really like your C-suite level teams that are leading the functions, that are working together to set vision and direction, to really move the business forward and achieve the various objectives that they have. I also work with functional teams. So one layer kind of below the top leadership team across those functions. And really, it’s those directors that are managing the day-to-day or leading and setting direction for their teams who need that day-to-day coaching and support on business strategy, people strategy. And really translating what we need to do from a business strategy through a people strategy.

Naphtali Bryant: And then, the other type of group that I work with are sometimes these project teams, or we like to call them working groups, where folks come together cross-functionally from across the business to achieve a specific objective. And they’re bringing different perspectives, different insights, and they need to work together. And so I look at how can I help support those teams when we have those types of initiatives across the business. To really not only be successful in what they’re trying to achieve, but also foster a team dynamic that can be repeatable in future working groups and project teams.

Dave Gloss: It’s interesting. Hearing that makes me think about — I’m thinking 10 years ago, and even not even 10 years ago, still today. Right? When we’re talking with HR partners who are embedded, it depends on the culture of the organization whether they see them as strategic, or tactical, or what I would consider the firefighters. Like, “Come in and take care of this issue that I have going on.” What I hear you describing is more land managers. Right? These are the people who are really walking in tandem with that. Tell me a little bit about the receptivity of leaders in working with a partner like yourself, and what might we need to think about in order to strengthen that type of relationship with the team leaders that we are engaged with?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. I think the first thing I think about is someone once told me that you teach people how to treat you. And so part of what I’ve tried to do with the leaders that I work with is really set the foundation for, “How do we want to actually partner together?” So, first of all, asking those questions, being curious about the type of partnership that they desire. And then also, talk about the type of partner that I desire to be, as well. And so the way I try to describe that is, I don’t necessarily want to lean heavily into being the firefighter HR or the 911 HR partner. I want to be that proactive strategic partner that comes alongside you on the journey. That through the peaks and valleys, I’m there with you. Versus kind of pulling me in off the sideline when you need me. I’m much better of a partner when we can walk this thing out together, and really support you in a way that allows you to achieve those business objectives. So I really try to articulate that. And then, I also try to simplify things. I believe in this idea of radical simplicity. Our business leaders are busy. They’re working toward achieving goals and objectives on a day-to-day basis. And they need things to be simple, digestible, to keep moving forward toward those goals and objectives. So I don’t ever want to be that disruptor in that way. I want to be that catapult or that catalyst to their success.

Dave Gloss: You’ve been successful at getting to it, right, and being able to create that dynamic. What are the things, if I’m an HR partner that’s like, “I’m tired of putting out fires,” I’m really — I hear the way that you’re doing and engaging. Right? But what do you think the HR partners need to be armed with? Whether it’s insights, or skills, or what would be valuable for an HR partner that’s trying to really position itself more as that strategic partner?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. I think it’s a combination of a couple of things. I think you have to have a level of sophisticated kind of resources and tools, whether that be a centralized function like a COE, whether it’s talent management, learning, diversity and inclusion. And then you also have to have what I like to call the toolkit. It’s some of those tools, resources that you can actually access, that you’ve experienced or leveraged throughout your career, whether it be assessment-based, or whether it be coaching-based, that you can pull in to whatever situation that you are facing. And those are the couple of things that I surround myself with, as well as mentors that are in this space that can provide wisdom, guidance, support for you proactively. I’m a firm believer, don’t wait for the fire to happen. What are you proactively doing to constantly work those muscles, and tap into those resources, those tools, those people, those partners, to help you be a better HR partner?

Dave Gloss: Yeah. How we started working together was around our Team Effectiveness model. We have our survey, the Team Effectiveness Survey, and how that kind of evaluates how strong a team’s culture is, how high their levels of productivity are. We’re evaluating what’s going on in terms of the levels of trust and safety, dialogue, cohesion, how teams are learning and adapting, executing, and aligning on how they work. It gives us a lot of surgical precision in where to focus with teams. Because sometimes you’ll hear a team leader come with a bunch of issues or challenges or things that are going on. I’d love to hear about your experience working with the tool, and how you’ve used that to really make progress in that relationship and working with teams.

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. It’s interesting because I’m sure a lot of us have heard of WebMD. Right? And so typically, what I’ve done to a fault sometimes, is like, “Oh, I have a back pain or a leg pain. Let me Google it on WebMD to see what type of symptoms I have. Okay, those are my symptoms.” And then I actually go, I self-diagnose, and I try a bunch of things that don’t work. Part of what I was pushing myself, the leaders, and the teams that I support is like, “Let’s not think of how we do this through a WebMD lens, where we’re just trying to figure out what’s going on, and looking at these symptoms and trying to match it. Let’s be a little bit more intentional in our approach.” And so, that’s where the Team Effectiveness Survey comes in. Because number one, it goes back to the simplicity point. There’s a simple framework or language that translates well, globally, in my opinion. Right? So you got culture, productivity equals high performing teams. And so there’s a foundation there. And then the three dimensions under each of those allow you to really take a step back and be more intentional in your approach, and have data and insights be able to guide you. Versus you kind of doing it on your own, and trying to do the Google search, and figure out what the symptoms are, and continually being wrong. And then also, continuing to waste effort and time that we don’t have, internally, to work through some of the challenges and issues that might be on a team.

Naphtali Bryant: And so, that’s where that tool came in handy. Really started to pilot it internally with the various teams. And then it started to become a tool that we started to leverage. And it’s been helpful for me, now as an HR partner, to be able to leverage those insights and data, to continue to have that dialogue around the constant drumbeat of team development. Because typically, team development is done where it’s like, “Oh, okay, let’s do some random offsite and do a team-building exercise.” And we think we’re going to solve team dynamics. I’m sure many of us have done that throughout our career. But this actually allows us to have that ongoing, intentional pulse on what’s happening with the team. But also the practical ways of tapping into, how do we shift and shape our team dynamic? From setting our operating principles to really being clear about what the vision is, to also engaging in conflict in a much better way for our team to grow and develop.

Dave Gloss: Yeah. I love that you call out that second part. Right? There’s insights. Right? If you think about the AIIR method, assessment, insight. We’re able to use tools to help us get clear about what really is going on. And then, choosing what we implement. Right? And ultimately what we reinforce. You hit on some really key things that relates to purpose and operating principles. These are things that we have found in our research that way more than half of the teams out there do not state explicitly: why we exist, how we want to share feedback, how do we want to keep ourselves accountable, or make decisions, or create a culture of learning and adapting and things like that. Are there any stories or examples that come to mind of where you’ve seen leaders who weren’t aware, got some insights, and were able to make some progress on increasing their performance and reinforcing their culture?

Naphtali Bryant: I think that’s happened every single time I’ve used the Team Effectiveness Survey. And it really starts with that debrief session with the leader around, that TE grid where you’re able to see where each of your team members is plotted on this diagram of the four types of teams, in terms of where they scored on culture, where they scored on productivity. And it goes to the four types of team: driven, frozen, comfortable, and high performing. And that dynamic alone, with every leader that I’ve done the survey with, has revealed a whole lot to the leader. Because part of what you see on this grid is those various dots. You see some clustering. You see some separation. And typically, you want that clustering to be tight in that upper right corner for the high-performing team. But what we’ve often found when you do that survey, there is a little bit of spread. And that’s what gets people kind of interested to be like, “Ooh, why is this person, or these people, here versus the rest of my team over here?” And that creates such a dynamic dialogue for the leaders that I’ve worked with to start to dig into the insights even further. The question I always get, though, is like, “Well, who are those dots? Can you give me the name of the people there?” And it’s like, “No, that’s not the purpose of the data.” It’s really a tool for us to really understand at a holistic level what’s happening for that team, and ask more questions, and dig deeper.

Dave Gloss: What I love about what the tool does, and what you’re sharing, is it allows us to understand not just who they are and how they show up as a group, but then where they can focus. Right? Those tendencies are really good. Tendencies, sometimes, when we get to think about an environment where we want to be respectful of each other, but if we’re not able to have very clearly explicit ways in which we’re going to share feedback, what do we do with that? And that’s what I’ve enjoyed your work. One of the things you had shared, and how we started working together, just to kind of — we developed what we now have as our Enterprise Team Effectiveness Solution. Maybe you can share. How did that come about for you? I would love to hear why did that idea, how did it get birthed, and why it matters that we think about team effectiveness as an enterprise mindset?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. I’ve always prided myself on having a deep level of curiosity about what could be, and having a vision for how things can work at an even better level. And I think part of where this idea of enterprise team effectiveness came from was the reactions that I was getting to the data, the insights, and the simple and practical ways of leveraging this tool. I just felt like everybody deserved an opportunity to do this. Right? But in order to do that, you have to think of scalability, and how you can package things in a simplified way so that you can get it to a large mass of people. And so the Enterprise Team Effectiveness Solution actually broke down those practical insights and tools and resources in digestible ways that allowed me and other folks, as practitioners, to take those resources and be a little bit more scalable in the approach. “Great. We have a team that takes the TS. Now what?” is always the question that I would get, and I’ve gotten throughout the years working with different tools and resources and assessments. And the thing that I’ve always thought about is, what if you can take folks on a journey? What I tend to see work really well is that, when you are able to come along with people on a journey, they’re much more likely to get better over time. They may resist that journey a little bit in the beginning, but if they can actually see a clear path to success, to actually move the needle on the various things that they care about for their team, for the business, that actually makes a difference. And so that’s where it was really born out of. And had some really good conversations with the AIIR team thinking through ideas and ways to scale this and package it in a way that was easy for practitioners, but also easy for leaders and teams to absorb.

Dave Gloss: Yeah. It’s been a real pleasure working with you on that. And we have since, just being able to pilot with you all at Netflix, been able to expand, refine, and do it across multiple other organizations at this point, to see what’s really possible. We’re now, actually, just a little bit of a tease, we’ve been able to tie directly to engagement scores. And we’re looking at leading and lagging indicators. Right? So lagging indicator? Turnover. Leading indicator? Engagement. But what’s that intervenable indicator? What’s the thing that you can actually choose? Engagement doesn’t always show what’s happening, that might be affecting whether someone’s engaged or connected. One of the things that we have found with the survey now, and then using that as an intervention, like you said, anybody that gets some awareness around it immediately starts to take action on those things. And starts to understand, what are the blockers? What are the things that are getting in the way of someone feeling their voice is heard? Or they’re in an environment where we are challenging ourselves to make better decisions, or set clear priorities, or align our purpose? And give people a very clear thing to orient to. Right? And in doing so, we’ve been able to make some great progress at helping empower HR partners at other organizations to be the partners that guide it, to do the pull-through. You’re talking about it’s not just the assessment, but it’s also in what we choose, and how we do that work. Where it becomes embedded as part of the regular rhythm of a team to state and refine its operating principles. Right? What advice might you have, or suggestions might you have, for an organization that is starting to consider this type of an approach, to really roll out and embed team effectiveness as a primary tool for increasing engagement, productivity, and culture across an organization?

Naphtali Bryant: Do it. I think sometimes we can talk ourselves out of a good thing by adding too much additional rationale for why it won’t work. I would encourage you to think about why it will work, and entertain the idea of, “What will it look like when it works? How will our teams be transformed? How will our leaders be better? How will our HR partners, our learning partners, be better equipped to help us have a healthier organization?” Especially in this day and age, when we’ve gone through a pandemic, still somewhat in it. We’ve gone through this hybrid working where the whole thing has been flipped upside down in terms of how we work, the way we interact. We need those insights. We need that information to be able to guide and direct us in a way to be very strategic. Resources are limited. They continue to be limited within our organizations. But it’s having the right resources, and the right tools, which actually helps you expand and scale and make and drive impact better than you’ve done before in your organization. So that’s my first thought is, “Do it.”

Naphtali Bryant: I think the second thing is, you got to lean into a little bit of innovation and courage around trying something different. Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean it won’t work for your organization. So lean into that little bit of risk, and courage, and innovation, to be like, “Hey, let’s try this out.” Pilots are always great, when you can think about what group could benefit from this most, and start there. You don’t have to have the entire organization do a Team Effectiveness Survey. That may not be the best approach right away. But you can build to that. And then the final thing, I would say, is really think about the type of partnership you want to have with a vendor, like an AIIR Consulting. So that you can craft that relationship in a way that the team actually comes along with you, and is almost a part of your organization. As a thought partner. As a sounding boar. Versus, “Great. Let me have your tool. And I’m going to go try to do this myself, internally.” So really focus on that partnership. So those are three things I would offer folks out there that are considering, how do you impact team effectiveness more broadly in your organization.

Dave Gloss: And what I enjoyed is something that came out of the innovations that we partnered on together. Right? Just having a clear vision, and how do we empower your center of excellence and HR partners with this, was the creation of the community of practice. Getting together on a quarterly basis to talk about, “What have you seen work with the tool? And what have you seen?” Because every company is different. Right? Can you share a little bit about what the experience was like in being able to have that type of community of practice? And what that means for helping embed these types of practices as a whole within an organization?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. I think we all need sounding boards. We all need to share and help each other more than we do, internally, in our organizations.

So, the community of practice actually just helped us do that, as practitioners, to really think about what’s working, what’s not working. What are some innovations or things that we want more of as we leverage the tool? And how can we use it more? Where are the opportunities to leverage it more? So those are the things that really made that community of practice helpful for us.

Dave Gloss: Yeah. A couple of final things that come to mind as I think about the HR partner, and being able to have this data, and being able to contribute to what happens across the organization in terms of the data that we’re gathering, and the insights that are gathering. When you think about the future, right, we think about what’s next for the role of the HR partner, where it’s moved from being firefighters to land managers. How does the HR partner help inform, and help shape, the direction where an organization can take in terms of way it serves people, its teams, its culture and things like that?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. I’m a firm believer that it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame. And I think as an HR partner, we are always looking at the picture. And helping our leaders and our teams remember what the bigger picture looks like, so that they don’t get mired or stuck in the frame too much, although that’s where they live in their day-to-day. So helping them come up and see that picture more broadly is part of the work that happens on a day-to-day basis, and something that we can continue to anchor in as we shift to being less of the firefighter and more of the land manager, as Dave called it. And being a strategic partner. Now mind you, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to sit in an HR partner seat. So I can relate to all of you out there thinking through like, “Man, this is hard, this dynamic. I don’t have that type of partnership that you’re talking about.” But I would encourage you to have a growth mindset on how can you constantly get better every day. So my challenge to you, too, is what are you doing to grow yourself, and your skill set as an HR partner, to be the HR partner you desire to be? How are you getting 1% better each day? What books are you reading? What things are you focused on? Who are you talking to? Who should you be talking to? Those are the things that actually equip you to manage through these challenging times. But also, to set your organizations up for success long-term.

Dave Gloss: Yeah. And that’s something that I wanted to put out there, is building on it. We are offering discounts for HR partners to take the Team Effectiveness certification. It doesn’t have to be an enterprise decision. But specifically, HR partners getting certified on the instrument to be able to at least have a little bit of growth, a little bit of development, but have a new tool in their toolkit. So I appreciate you calling that out. Staying in that vein, what are the books you’re reading? What are the things you’d recommend right now for somebody to take advantage of, to get that 1% better?

Naphtali Bryant: Yeah. So I’m not going to give you HR-specific books. But there are books that kind of influence my thinking as an HR partner. So one of them is Adam Grant’s Think Again, where it’s really this idea of challenging your first opinion.

Dave Gloss: [laughter] That’s right here.

Naphtali Bryant: What is your second opinion? Right? Really helping you think bigger and better. I think that’s one that stands out to me. Another one that I constantly go back to are the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by one of my mentors, John C. Maxwell. So constantly thinking about how are you focusing on intentional growth for yourself on a day-to-day basis. So that’s another one that I really kind of lean into. And the third one that I’ve been reading recently, or kind of listening to, is Limitless by Jim Kwik. So Jim Kwik really talks about how you can have this limitless mindset, and really thinking through how to actually make your brain work for you even better. How you can increase your ability to learn, increase your capacity to remember and grow. Fantastic read. So I encourage you to check out a couple of those books there.

Dave Gloss: Awesome. I thought I was going to take whatever pill Bradley Cooper was taking for that. Naphtali, I have appreciated hearing your perspective, and your challenge of us in this space, and how we serve teams. It’s been a pleasure working with you along this path in this journey. I’ve learned so much from you, not only from your own LinkedIn learning programs you have out there and others. You’re just a wealth of knowleDave Glosse and information and skill and inspiration, from where you’ve come from, to where you are, to where you’re headed. I just want to thank you for your time today, and the chance to explore what’s going on in your brain, and what we can use some of that to get better.

Naphtali Bryant: Well, I appreciate it as well. Dave, congrats on all your success with the AIIR team, and running the Team Effectiveness arm there. I’m sure there’s much, much more in store for all of us in this space from AIIR Consulting. So looking forward to all of that, and the continued partnership.

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