HR Business Partners have multi-faceted responsibilities.  The facets of their role are honed and shaped by the needs and make-up of the business or teams they support.  Here we discuss some universal skills which create a dynamic HR Business Partner.

Infusing Knowledge For Business Acumen

My journey into HR began as an HR Business Partner, a role freshly minted by David Ulrich’s groundbreaking “Human Resource Champions” in 1997. This era marked a transformative shift for “Personnel Departments” across the UK. Businesses buzzed with anticipation, eager to reap the benefits of this innovative HR model.

Ulrich’s Original Vision

Ulrich’s pioneering concept of business partnering carved out four pivotal functions for an HR Business Partner:

  1. Becoming a Strategic Partner
  2. Being an Administrative Expert
  3. Acting as an Employee Champion
  4. The Role of a Change Agent

This framework quickly became integral to the HR landscape.

Ulrich’s Evolving Framework

Ulrich didn’t stop there. His subsequent work, “HR from the Outside-In” (2012), built upon the foundation of six essential skills:

  1. Strategic Positioner
  2. Credible Activist
  3. Capability Builder
  4. Change Champion
  5. HR Innovator and Integrator
  6. Technology Proponent

The Evolution Of Business Partnering

Seventeen years on from Ulrich’s original model, the core principles remain steadfast, with the addition of technology advocacy as a critical enhancement. Mastery of technology is now indispensable, streamlining transactional work with innovative solutions.

Initially, HR’s credibility was tenuous, with scant historical data to back its strategic value. HR professionals had to demonstrate their worthiness for a boardroom seat, showcasing not just their people expertise but also their business and financial acumen.

The shift from transactional to strategic roles met with scepticism. Many organizations were reluctant to embrace HR as a shaping force for the future. Resistance, even outright rejection, was common, complicating the role of the business partner.

As a national business partner managing a team across the country, my mandate was to bolster our credibility within the business sphere.

Beyond Ulrich: Additional And Key Skills

Part of building credibility for the HR Business Partner team was to bolster that credibility by being confident and bold about what skills were needed.  This is what I found:

1. Financial Insight

Possessing a robust financial acumen is essential. HR Business Partners must not only understand but also anticipate the fiscal challenges that leaders encounter. They must weave cost awareness into the fabric of their strategies. This financial prowess often becomes the linchpin of an HR Business Partner’s credibility.

In the realm of business, numbers often speak louder than words. As an HR Business Partner, your ability to interpret financial reports, budget sheets, and cost analyses is crucial. It’s about more than just saving pennies; it’s about aligning HR initiatives with the financial health and strategy of the company. When you present a new program, can you forecast its ROI? Can you articulate how it will affect the bottom line? When you can speak the language of finance, you bridge the gap between HR and the C-suite. You become a strategic ally, not just a cost centre. This financial literacy empowers you to craft solutions that are not only innovative but also financially viable, ensuring that your voice is heard and respected in the strategic planning process.

2. Driving Improved Outcomes

Rejecting a purely results-driven culture does not mean overlooking the importance of outcomes. HR Business Partners must demonstrate how their initiatives will lead to enhanced performance by fostering a workforce that is skilled, motivated, and engaged.

The pursuit of improved outcomes is a balancing act between short-term gains and long-term sustainability. As an HR Business Partner, your strategies should not only address immediate challenges but also set the stage for enduring success. How will your talent development program reduce turnover rates? Can your employee engagement plan boost productivity? It’s about painting a picture of a future where the company thrives because its people do. When you connect the dots between employee well-being and organizational success, you create a compelling narrative that resonates with stakeholders. Your role becomes pivotal in shaping a culture where the drive for results harmoniously coexists with the values and well-being of the workforce.

3. Empathetic Leadership

Empathy in leadership is the cornerstone of a thriving workplace. It’s about understanding and sharing the feelings of others. An HR Business Partner with empathetic leadership skills builds trust and fosters a supportive environment that encourages open communication and collaboration.

Empathy is the heartbeat of effective leadership. It’s not just about listening; it’s about truly hearing and validating the experiences of your employees. When you approach a situation with empathy, you’re not just solving a problem; you’re connecting with the individual behind it. This connection is what transforms a workplace into a community. How will you respond when an employee is facing personal challenges? Can you create policies that reflect an understanding of diverse life experiences? Empathetic leadership is about creating a space where employees feel seen, heard, and valued. It’s about leading not just with your mind but with your heart.

4. Data-Driven Decision Making

In today’s digital age, data is a goldmine of insights. HR Business Partners who leverage data analytics can make informed decisions that are backed by evidence. This approach not only enhances the strategic value of HR but also adds a layer of accountability to decision-making processes.

Data is your compass in the often murky waters of business strategy. It guides you to make decisions that are not based on intuition alone but on hard evidence. How does your workforce analytics inform your talent acquisition strategy? Can you use performance data to tailor your training programs? Data-driven decision-making is about asking the right questions and using the answers to drive meaningful change. It’s about being accountable to the facts and figures that define your business landscape. When you base your decisions on data, you ensure that every move you make is strategic, targeted, and effective.

5. Agile Adaptability

Agility is not just a buzzword; it’s a survival skill in the fast-paced business world. An HR Business Partner who is agile can navigate the complexities of change with grace and confidence. This adaptability is key to staying relevant and resilient in the face of constant flux.

Change is the only constant in business, and agility is your superpower. It’s about being prepared to pivot when the market shifts, when new technologies emerge, or when unforeseen challenges arise. How quickly can you roll out a new remote working policy in response to a global crisis? Can you adapt your recruitment strategies to tap into new talent pools? Agile adaptability is about embracing change, not resisting it. It’s about leading the charge in innovation and being a catalyst for transformation within your organization.

6. Inclusive Talent Development

Inclusion is the seed from which the diverse talent of tomorrow grows. An HR Business Partner committed to inclusive talent development champions a culture where every individual has the opportunity to shine. This commitment not only enriches the workplace but also drives innovation and growth.

Inclusion is not just about opening doors; it’s about ensuring there’s a seat at the table for everyone. It’s recognizing that a diverse workforce is a powerful engine for innovation. How are your training programs fostering an environment where diversity is not just welcomed but celebrated? Can you identify and dismantle barriers that prevent equal opportunity for growth and development? Inclusive talent development is about nurturing a culture where differences are not just accepted but are seen as a valuable asset. It’s about creating pathways for every employee to reach their full potential, thereby enriching the fabric of your organization.

7. Ethical Judgment

Ethical judgment is the compass that guides HR Business Partners to make decisions that are not only effective but also right. This moral clarity is crucial in maintaining trust and integrity within the organization.

Ethics are the foundation upon which trust is built. As an HR Business Partner, your decisions set the tone for the ethical climate of the company. How do you ensure that your policies uphold the highest standards of integrity? Can you navigate the gray areas of business with a clear moral compass? Ethical judgment is about doing the right thing, even when it’s not the easiest path. It’s about leading by example and setting a standard that inspires others to follow. When you make decisions grounded in ethics, you create a legacy of trust and respect that transcends the bottom line.

8. Proactive Conflict Resolution

Conflict is an inevitable part of any dynamic business environment. An HR Business Partner skilled in proactive conflict resolution can defuse tensions before they escalate, maintaining harmony and productivity in the workplace.

Conflict resolution is not just about putting out fires; it’s about preventing them from igniting in the first place. How do you create communication channels that allow for early detection of potential issues? Can you facilitate dialogues that transform conflict into collaboration? Proactive conflict resolution is about being one step ahead, anticipating the friction points, and addressing them with tact and diplomacy. It’s about fostering a culture where differences in opinion are resolved through constructive dialogue, not silenced by fear or indifference.

9. Continuous Learning

The landscape of HR is ever-evolving, and continuous learning is the key to staying ahead of the curve. An HR Business Partner who is committed to lifelong learning remains sharp, informed, and ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Continuous learning is the fuel that powers your professional growth. It’s about being curious, asking questions, and never settling for the status quo. How do you stay updated with the latest HR technologies and methodologies? Can you translate new knowledge into innovative practices within your organization? Lifelong learning is about embracing the journey of growth, both personal and professional. It’s about being a perpetual student of your craft, ensuring that you, and by extension, your organization, are always at the forefront of HR excellence.

Incorporating these skills will not only enhance your role but also ensure that you are seen as an indispensable strategic asset to your organization.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.