A True HR Business Partner will infuse themselves with knowledge about their business
My first ever opportunity to work in HR was as an HR Business Partner. In those days it was when David Ulrich’s book which introduced Business Partnering, Human Resource Champions (1997), was being widely implemented throughout the UK. It was exciting times, a new ask was being made of “Personnel Departments” and businesses were curious and expectant about how this new model of HR would benefit them.
When Ulrich introduced the notion of business partnering, he identified, 4 distinct functions for an HR Business Partner :
- Becoming a strategic partner
- Becoming an administrative expert
- Becoming an employee champion
- Becoming a change agent.
Immediately, role and job specifications were re-examined to make sure HR had the necessary skills identified by Ulrich, and the business partner became a staple addition to the HR family.
After a number of books, and refinements on the model, Ulrich’s latest book, HR from the outside-in (2012), expands on the original model, identifying 6 key skills required of an HR Business Partner:
- Strategic Positioner
- Credible Activist
- Capability Builder
- Change Champion
- HR Innovator and Integrator
- Technology proponent
Since the model was first introduced some 17 years ago, not much has changed although being an activist and a proponent for technology are some much needed additions. Too often HR has been seen as paralysing action, and there is no excuse for transactional work to be delivered other than through technology solutions.
When I began work as a business partner, there was no historical data or results to rely on and credibility was a big problem right at the beginning. HR was truly being challenged to earn their seat on the board, not only for their expertise and mainstreaming of the importance of people as a resource, but also for their business and financial savvy.
In the transition from transactional to strategic work, there were many organisations who just did not buy into the notion of HR helping to shape the future , or to be true business partners to help the organisation get better results.
Like any major change, there was resistance and sometimes downright rejection. This made my job as a business partner fraught with difficulties. When I became the national business partner, overseeing a team of 10 or so business partners across the country, one of my main jobs was to help the business partners gain credibility with the business.
While role and job skills which ran parallel to Ulrich’s model were vital, there were two additional and distinct skills which always clinched the deal with customers:
Understanding the numbers was crucial. Having a commercial understanding of the conflicts, constraints and demands on leaders and managers to achieve results within financial parameters was essential. If a business partner underpins every recommendation and solution with accurate cost and cost implications they will gain credibility.
Sometimes a business partner gets hung up on what is the “right thing to do”, and while this is always the starting point; business managers would often point out, that “doing the right thing” is fine, but financially it’s not always possible. The way to get round financial constraints and conflicts is to determine the level of risk on any possible course of action. Sometimes, there is no option but to take some risk. If a business partner is able to help a customer determine a calculated risk, which keeps them within their financial parameters, they will undoubtedly win credibility.
Improving on results
As a big proponent of achieving results through people, I have never advocated a results driven culture. What I mean by results driven culture is when values and otherwise sensible courses of actions are abandoned at the expense of getting results. But it is naïve to propose solutions to managers which ignore or will impact negatively on results, without outlining how solutions will improve results in the long run. If a course of action doesn’t maintain or improve results in the long run, it is likely to be rejected.
If a business partner can build into any proposals or remedies, how results can be improved, usually through, better skilled, more motivated, more engaged people, then they will also be remembered for their business savvy.
Business Partnering is, and always will be a challenge if it is done well. It can also be satisfying and rewarding, when the business is a better place because of the expertise a business partner has brought to the table.
This post first appeared in HR People of Africa Magazine