Being a People leader can be a lonely role.

If you’re an HRBP, you know what it’s like to have your expertise overlooked, or even dismissed, by departmental stakeholders and leaders. Perhaps it is when your legitimate business concern is dismissed as a “nice-to-have.” Or when your role is misunderstood by a room full of senior executives who think your only job is to plan fun parties … or act as the fun police.

If you’re tired of being perceived as “out of touch” with business needs, you’re not alone! We’ve got you covered with ways HRBPs get a better understanding of the mindsets of different department leaders. Here we’ll be focusing on building a connection with sales leaders using tips from Pavilion CEO and co-founder Sam Jacobs, who talks us through the stakeholder’s mindset and explains how we can stop talking past each other and learn how to work better together.

Why it’s hard to connect

It’s time to raise the question: Why do so many business leaders dismiss their HR counterparts before they’ve even entered the room? 

When a stressful conflict arises, the executive leadership team may react by playing out roles that have been preset by the direction of the company. Perhaps the Sales leader is convinced an HRBP won’t understand their team’s needs. They may feel obligated to pursue a revenue objective … even if it’s in a way that doesn’t exactly align with the company’s culture. When the HR leader reacts by reining in this approach, what’s offered as a helping hand may look like a bridle and blinders.

What drives sales teams?

Sales leaders are hyper-aware of the speed at which an organization’s temperament and energy can shift. In the world of sales, it’s common for Sales leaders to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. A Sales leader may believe that collaborative decisions lead to a less-than-ideal compromise … in the same way that great art is not created by a committee. 

For an HRBP, the fast-paced sales floor can seem just as baffling. Running at an all-out sprint looks awfully chaotic when you’re used to being the one setting the pace. However, the flip side is also true: When nobody is making sales, it’s going to be really, really difficult to get everybody fired up and excited.

How to make the connection

Most HRBPs inevitably face times when they butt heads with stakeholders and struggle to achieve true partnership. Instead of focusing on each role’s differences, look for how each role fits together to build a successful outcome. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stonewalled before the first brick is laid.

Butting heads is a natural part of the communication process. Rather than avoiding it, HRBPs can embrace uncomfortable conversations to find common ground. Here’s how you can do this by using specific language and the power of inquiry:

Focus on longevity

The reality is that the longevity and tenure of the Sales leader position is short. If the numbers aren’t met, the Sales leader may soon find themself without a job. Make collaboration their idea by framing it as in the Sales leader’s best interest. After all, even if the Sales team does reach its goals, if everyone hates the Sales leader, the numbers won’t protect their position. HRBPs can find common ground with Sales leaders by having conversations that help them see their place in the team, both now and in the long run.

Identify where goals align

Picture this: It’s the end of the quarter. On one side of the table sits the HRBP defending the company against any “rogue” culture, while the Sales lead sits on the other side repeatedly asking, “But how badly do you want to hit these numbers?” 

This is the time to pause and look at the goal’s alignment and importance. It should never feel like one person has to advocate for compassion and kindness, while the other person has to advocate for aggression and ruthlessness. Instead HRBPs can help Sales leaders by identifying the one singular goal that brings these pieces together as a successful outcome.

Allow for different strains within the culture

CEOs and People leaders can struggle with wanting there to be one strong, defining culture across all of the different departments. However, what would happen if every team was able to do things a little bit differently? Rather than seeing this as a sign of dysfunction, we can recognize that, like different kinds of people, different departments are going to be driven by various things. At Ethena, we value alignment but respect diversity of culture in our workplace. With that goal at the forefront, the success is in getting there — as long as it’s done with respect.


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5 questions to ask Sales leaders

Not sure where to start building the connection? Here are five questions to bring to your next stakeholder check-in:

  1. What are the most significant risks to your team right now, and what are you doing about them?
  2. Who are your strongest players, and what are you doing to retain them?
  3. What are your top three priorities this quarter, and what’s going to make or break your chances of success?
  4. What kind of rewards drive this team, and how can the other departments be cognitive of those?
  5. What’s the best and worst relationship you ever had with an HRBP, and what role did you play in its success or failure?

Not only will asking questions show that you mean business, it’ll also provide you with a whole lot of valuable information you can use to demonstrate your expertise.

How Ethena can help

At Ethena, we create training courses that go beyond checking-the-box and help to build connection and a culture (just like that dream HRBP and Sales Leader relationship).

Ready to see how Ethena can help your teams align, connect, and succeed together? Request a demo today.