Laura Albregts and Cindy Meervis
PA Consulting Group
13 January 2009
Although many organisations employ HR business partners, there are different interpretations of the role and varying levels of success. Laura Albregts and Cindy Meervis examine the important part they play in inspiring your organisation and assess what is needed to make the role work effectively.
Many organisations have implemented HR business partner roles, whose aim is to be strategic partners and change agents alongside senior leaders helping them execute the people dimensions of business strategies. Yet, translating this concept into the real world, where operational issues and ad hoc queries seem to rule the daily agenda, is not an easy task.
Consequently, organisations tend to struggle with the positioning of their HR business partners as truly effective operators. Here we share our views on the elements that influence success and effectiveness of an HR business partner, based on our client work with multinational organisations.
These are tough but exciting times for HR
While HR's focus has shifted towards cost-effectiveness and downsizing, talent management remains a key concern for businesses, with continued demand for team building, succession planning and leadership development.
The extreme business conditions of 2009 could prove to be the year when HR business partners prove their worth - or fail. In theory, the role has never been more necessary, but the lack of a clear definition or common understanding of what an HR business partner is for might be exposed in this climate, making it difficult for people to be successful in the role.
What are the elements that determine the contribution and success of an HR business partner? Although there’s no straightforward or obvious answer, it is recognised to be about exerting behaviours that both influence the strategic agenda and gain business buy-in while also applying a skill set that improves the effectiveness and delivery of quality HR services. It is well acknowledged that the HR business partner role cannot be successful in isolation; its effectiveness heavily depends on its position within the entire HR function, and particularity its relationships with HR service centres and centres of expertise.
What drives the success of an effective HR business partner?
In our view, the effectiveness of the HR business partner is determined by their ability to act along three key themes: Strategic Advisor; Service Manager; and Business Catalyst.
Be a strategic HR advisor to senior management
Understanding the business and its external environment is essential for any HR business partner wanting to develop into a strategic advisor to senior management. We say 'senior' because for advice to be strategic, the person receiving it needs to have a planning horizon that exceeds immediate tactical concerns – five years, not 12 months.
Knowing the business's landscape creates an initial entry into the management team, but continuing to operate with impact is established by showing the appropriate behaviours and acting from the right beliefs and values, so that business leaders see their HR people as peers in whom they can confide.
How to behave and influence?
Learn what drives the business and what the numbers look like
Act as a catalyst for continued business performance
HR needs to share in the responsibility for sustaining and improving business results by ensuring that HR strategies and plans are translated into concrete actions and tangible results. HR business partners should define, prioritise and measure HR's contribution to business performance as well as monitor and maximise staff effectiveness to business operations.
What to do?
Shape the organisation structure by aligning activities with people and capabilities in support of business operations
Ensure that operational excellence in HR is delivered
As a service manager, the HR business partner needs to monitor and provide excellent HR service delivery. Not only should the person in this role fulfil the local demand function of the shared service centre and the centres of expertise, they should also provide specialised HR service delivery when required (ie. local recruitment).
How to make sure these excellent services are delivered?
Drive for uniform and best practice processes, it enables for a quality and consistent service delivery. But don’t lose sight of the end-service delivery by overly focusing on how it is provided