How can HR be positioned as a business partner?

Priceline’s Jill Saverine explains how she helped her department become a key company asset

Jill Saverine, VP of Human Resources at Priceline
Jill Saverine, VP of Human Resources at Priceline

I have been with Priceline for fifteen years and have seen the brand go through both its good and difficult times. After several years with Priceline, senior management gave me the chance to take on the role of vice president of human resources. Priceline has a truly remarkable story of triumph, and being a part of the company during those years helped me gain better understanding into what worked and what did not. I have broken out my learnings below to highlight how HR can be positioned as a business partner.

It all began with an employee-engagement survey. We had not issued one since 2001, and we felt it was imperative to understanding how to best serve our employees. After the survey was conducted, we used the results to form three committees to help us focus on the issues that came forward: perks and benefits, employee communication, and open-office etiquette. I am pleased to say that those employee committees have been very successful.

Then we had to change the company philosophy around training. It was essential for us to be proactive, and in the fall of 2012 we hired a director of learning and development who has been phenomenal in bringing about training programs that have helped address the issues that were raised by employees in the engagement survey, as well as what we felt we needed to address—things like learning gaps and skill gaps.

During the fall of 2013, we hired an outside company to administer an HR business survey to identify if the function, policies, procedures, and everything HR does was aligned with business needs. This was sent to all directors and above, across the organization; we had data on how our stakeholders felt we were performing in relation to their satisfaction with our services, and also in relation to the value that they felt human resources was providing to the organization. We received a lot of qualitative data, which included constructive feedback. Although some of the feedback we received was tough to hear, I used it to guide the team to take this criticism constructively and worked with the departments to determine what human resources could do to make the most impact on their business goals and objectives. We started to insert ourselves into the business by going to department meetings. In the past ten years, human resources never presented at our quarterly business reviews, but when I began leading the team, I went to the CEO and said we needed to be present.

Today, the feeling around the company is that talent is the number one thing that is going to make us successful. HR is the department that’s going to bring the talent in. We need to be aware of what the other departments are working on, the key challenges that they face, and the key strengths that we have as an organization. Also, we need businesses to understand what we are working on, the challenges we face, and what we need them to do to support us. It’s a “help me help you” sort of thing.

I meet regularly with department heads to talk about strategic issues but to also make sure that the HR team is providing the best service we possibly can to the business. The relationship has been strengthened by us coming out of administrative mode, and I believe that we have the support of senior management. They realize that the function and the staff who comprise HR are essential in the success of Priceline as a business. Human resources is more than just a business partner; it is a part of the business. When we begin to view human resources in that light, companies are bound to excel.