Bhavna Dave Knows HR’s Future is Now

HR expert Bhavna Dave knows how important it is to partner with the business—and it’s something leaders should be doing now, not in five years

Bhavna Dave, Chief People Officer and Executive People AdvisorPhoto: Eli Turner

Bhavna Dave always has a goal in sight. From the moment she earned her degree in human resources from St. Mary’s University, Dave has made very intentional moves to further her career goals, accepting carefully chosen positions at small and midsize technology companies such as Rosetta Stone, AddThis, and Frontpoint, a leader in home security.

“From day one, I took on roles that I felt would not only give me the scope I needed to learn all areas of HR but also put me in a position to make an impact on the business,” Dave says. “HR is a core function and is critical to the success of a business, especially if leveraged in the right way.”

Companies succeed and fail as a result of their leadership principles—the culture that company leaders have cultivated, the ways in which key stakeholders work together, the manner in which leaders execute on their goals. “And all of that,” Dave emphasizes, “is tied to the people strategy and the people function. CEOs and other leaders should partner closely with HR to plan for the future of the business.”

Whether a company aims to drive growth, move toward a new area of technology, or roll out a new initiative, HR must be involved in that discussion, she explains.

“Moving to the cloud, for example, is a strong business strategy. But if you don’t have those skill sets within your company—or if you look too late for individuals with those skill sets—you’re going to be behind,” Dave says. “You have to make sure that you have the right talent and the right skill sets in the business at the right times so that you can execute on both your short- and long-term goals.”

“HR is a core function and is critical to the success of a business, especially if leveraged in the right way.”

As a chief people officer at Frontpoint, Dave carefully screened potential members of her team to ensure that she is building an HR function capable of maximizing the organization’s potential. “In interviews, I look at a candidate’s overall aptitude. But I also look at their curiosity, drive, and self-initiative,” she says. “There are many skills you can teach, but not these core qualities, and they are what will help us enable the success of the company.”

Once a candidate is hired, Dave believes it’s important to teach those individuals about every facet of the business. She worked with the leadership group and other key company stakeholders to help her team members understand the structure of the company as a whole as well as the importance of serving as partners to each area of the business.

“It’s important for HR teams to attend business meetings, other departmental team meetings, and spend time with business leaders to understand key strategies and initiatives because that gives them an informed perspective on what those functions do every day, the skill sets on those teams, and where those groups are headed,” Dave says. “We take in all the information we learn from the business groups about their capabilities, goals, and needs and provide them with the necessary support.”

According to Dave, it’s important to create programs, tools, and resources that are unique to the organization and the organization’s issues. Dave and her team did this often, and one example of this was the unique performance management process they developed, which provided the business an easy way to give feedback, develop employees, and drive increased performance. “The hardest part of giving feedback is just starting that conversation,” she says. “People are so nervous that the person receiving feedback will react negatively.

“Partnering with the business is something that people are doing—and need to be doing—now. If we wait for the future to start doing this, we will only be playing catch-up.”

“But if you create a very simple way for them to talk about what’s going on,” Dave continues, “it opens the door for employees and managers to engage in a conversation about performance, to have a dialogue about where individuals need to continue to grow and where they need to stay consistent.”

The performance management process her team created relies on three different tools, Dave explains: SurveyMonkey, Excel, and Domo. Since a single tool didn’t exist to support the process they created, they used these tools to adapt to their process. The company leaders are able to produce data-driven assessments of both individual and company-wide performance and to foster a dialogue about how well everyone in the business is executing against their goals.

When the business and the HR function come together as they have on the development and execution of this performance management process, Dave notes, everyone sees the impact. But the idea of HR partnering with the business is not a new one, she emphasizes.

“This is something I’ve done throughout my career, something that sets strong HR executives apart from other leaders within the field,” Dave says. “I’m seeing all these articles about the future of HR and how it will look in 2025, and they’re all talking about how CEOs are going to expect HR leaders to understand the business and align people to the business strategy.

“This is not our future,” she stresses. “This is something that people are doing—and need to be doing—now. If we wait for the future to start doing this, we will only be playing catch-up.”

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