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HR Business Partnering – What does it really mean?

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More and more people are describing themselves as ‘HR Business Partners’ and the job adverts are increasing along with salaries for many of these lucrative posts. Is it just a change of name, or is it really a different role? These Frequently Asked Questions, should help you decide.


What is an HR Business Partner?
A business partner enables HR to get closer to the business, to help organisations make the most of their people. The aim is to use HR and people in a more strategic way, making real contributions to business success.

Is it just another HR fad that will be gone in six months?
For many, it’s a radical change to the way HR works within the business. It involves reorganising ‘how’ HR delivers its service, as well as changing traditional job titles. It is often driven by the need for cost savings and the need for HR to prove how it adds value and contributes to the bottom line.

It has been around for a while and the trend towards value-driven HR looks here to stay. This has already happened to other functions such as IT and Finance. HR is unlikely to return to doing things the way it did before, but many companies choose to review the first model of partnering they implemented in the light of how successful it was first time around.

Is it happening in all organisations?
Most larger organisations have either gone down this route or are looking at implementing it. Smaller ones are doing it to varying degrees. Though they may not have such a big reorganisation, HR people may be encouraged to be more strategic in general.

How do I become an HR Business Partner?
This will, to some extent depend on your background in HR and your previous work experience. Most HR Business Partners have senior generalist HR backgrounds, though some have specialist expertise, in areas such as employment relations or learning and development.

Increasingly, more Business Partners are coming from the business and have never worked in HR before. Completing their CIPD Diploma, once they are in post is becoming more the norm for these individuals and can prove to be a bit of a threat to existing HR professionals.

HR Business Partners need to have a very good understanding of HR issues and how they can best be applied across the organisation, i.e. ‘The HR Expert’ and will need to know the business and industry inside out, to become ‘closer’ to the business and provide for its real needs rather than driving HR initiatives because it is ‘What HR does’.

It’s about achieving business success through best use of people and then providing the best HR solution. Being able to facilitate changes within the organisation and having a good understanding of business and HR strategies, is also needed, if you are going to work at the more senior levels.

Some organisations are recognising the career and development challenges in becoming an HR Business Partner and are introducing ‘Support’ or ‘Developing’ Business Partner roles to help with this.

How can I free up time when I’ve got so much day-to-day transactional work?
Ideally, if the structure has been properly implemented, there will be some method, such as a Service Centre, that will take on a lot of the transactional work. Similarly, line managers need to be developed to ensure they take on their full people management responsibilities.

It can however, take time to embed the use of these and it also means the HR Business Partner needs to be quite strong and challenging when asked to do things that are not part of their new responsibilities.

What can I do right now to ensure I work more as an HR Business Partner?
1. Get yourself closer to the business. Find out what the key problems and issues that the business and its managers have. Find ways that HR can help these to be achieved.
2. Avoid ‘HR speak’ – use the language of the business.
3. Take part in meetings, not as an HR person, but as part of the management team. Take on a role or a project out of HR as a full business team member, such as finding out customer views of the service or product they receive.
4. Find yourself a ‘mentor’ within the business who will help you to move forward, discuss key issues with you and broaden your business understanding.
5. Be willing to have your success measured by ‘end of the day’ business measures.
6. Learn how strategy is developed in general and how it happens within your organisation.
7. Find the three or four key people-related metrics that will provide the information the organisation really needs and that will help you to provide the best HR solution.

Shirley Dalziel is director of develop uk

2 Responses

  1. response to hr business partner comment
    I completely agree with the comment and it is a bit problem. There has to be a shift in attitude as well as skill set and this does not always prove easy. Hence why a number of organisations have difficulty with recruiting strategic business partners. shirley

  2. But is HR irrelevant?
    Shirley raises an important issue but skirts over one issue – can HR change its spots. I have worked with a number of HR departments who have made the change and others who recognise the need but fail to make the change. What’s the difference? I think it begins with what people stop doing.

    The ones that fail to make it are often so locked into the skillset and (more importantly) the mindset of administrator and policeman. They are unable or scared to take the first steps of stopping doing the work that they currently do, much of which is not recognised or valued by managers. Equally, they have taken on much of the work of managing people that should be done by line managers.

    The ones that have made it create time for doing the important things by stopping doing things. They get caught out occasionally but change without risk is rare. It is perhaps interesting to note that the ones that make it have a Director that came from the line, not from HR.

    Shirley is right in saying that understanding the business is the starting point. Perhaps HR should look at the training and qualifications it has to ensire that a sound and broad understanding of business is the foundation of professional qualifications.

    The real problem is (as I suggest in an article of the same title) that much of what goes under the name of HR is irrelevant to the business. That’s the strating point of change.

    Dave Jackson
    [email protected]

    PS Just to illustrate my point, why has the issue of a calendar caused one of the biggest debates on the site?

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