What Is An HR Business Partner (HRBP), Really?

HR Business Partner (HRBP): Let's Make History

Every successful organisation needs an HR business partner (HRBP).If you're an organisation interested in unlocking your productive potential, investing in an HRBP should be your next big move.

What does it take to become one? Is there a model for success? What skills do they need to succeed? We’ll answer all of these, and more, in the following article.

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What Is an HR Business Partner (HRBP)?

HR business partners (HRBP) are human resources professionals who help align an organisation’s ‘people strategy’ with their ‘business strategy.’ They help senior leaders envision, develop and execute an HR strategy that supports their growth, performance and future objectives.

What Is HR Business Partnering?

This is the model by which we can understand and realise HR’s role as a strategic force within an organisation. In order for this to happen, an organisation needs to rethink the way they position their People Team and how they are viewed in the greater organisation.

What Is an HR Business Partner’s Role?

An HR business partner is an HR manager who has freed themselves of administrative chaos. Instead of working as an HR service provider, they take on tasks of strategic importance for the company (such as HR planning or strategy). This allows them to strategically influence and grow an organisation from within.

Let’s take a recent example and explore it: the Covid-19 pandemic. In a traditional organisation, an HR person may have functioned in a purely administrative role. But, almost overnight, they were expected to:

Ideally, they would flourish, mobilise previously-unknown strengths and uncover their hidden potential. Or, due to the amount of administrative work on their plate, they may flounder.

For an HR business partner, strategic work and crisis scenarios like these are second nature. In a time like the pandemic, they’d have both the mental capacity and time to understand what’s happening in the business, where leaders currently stand and what decisions they need to make (and how to make them).

When done correctly, each of these decisions can add immense value in a time of crisis. This is because they are not simply trying to keep their head above water, but playing their part in business success.

What Makes for a Great HR Business Partner?

It’s all about facilitating a place for them at the table of senior leadership, A great HRBP needs to be involved in high-level discussions, in order to help a business fulfill its business goals through the lens of their ‘people goals’. When the role of HR is elevated to this position, that is the definition of an HR business partner.

What Does an HR Business Partner Do?

As early as the late 1990s, American professor Dave Ulrich claimed that the conventional approach to HR management needed to be updated. HR management needed to be redefined by the following:

  • A business partner to senior management.

  • Given new, extended duties and responsibilities.

  • Actively contribute to value creation.

This is how he coined the term "HR business partner".

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What Does it Mean to Be an HR Business Partner?

The difference is that an HRBP isn’t just a partner in name alone. While they continue to work as points of contact for employees, they also serve as sounding boards for executive management.

An HR business partner’s expertise provides valuable and reliable management input, and they need to be involved in all major management decisions. Basically, being an HR business partner means being a senior leader in your own right.

What sort of opportunity does this new status of HR create for companies? HR business partners work collaboratively with executive management, proactively contribute to the creation of value and help to achieve ambitious corporate goals.

The 5 Core Tasks of an HR Business Partner

In general, what might an HR business partner be asked to do? We see it in five unique ways:

Core TaskWhy It Matters
Strategic Control Of HR ProcessesHRBPs are equipped with the strategic vision to identify bottlenecks early on and run efficient, smooth recruiting and hiring processes.
Staff Development & CoachingAn HRBP provides tailored professional development and training initiatives for managers and employees.
Collaboration With Executive ManagementAn HRBP would be tasked with keeping a clear view and actively helping to shape the future of a company.
Taking Charge Of ChangeHRBPs are essential drivers of change in an organization, taking charge of the entire change management process and optimizing it.
Employer BrandingAn HRBP would be tasked with putting particular focus on bringing corporate culture to life to attract and retain top talent.

1) Strategic Control of HR Processes

Employees are a company’s most valuable resource, and the current shortage of skilled professionals constitutes one of the greatest challenges in HR. HRBPs are equipped with the strategic vision to identify bottlenecks early on and run efficient, smooth recruiting and hiring processes.

Beyond that, HRBPs manage employee retention from a basis of sound people analytics data: After all, high turnover rates are one of the major cost drivers within most companies.

2) Staff Development & Coaching

Once the right employees have been brought on board, HRBPs ensure that they stay on course and help to move the company forward.

For this, it is crucial that HR provides tailored professional development and training initiatives for managers and employees. These not only drive productivity but are also essential for the company’s ability to add value.

Employees who feel appreciated and whose development is supported within the company are much less likely to search competitors’ recruiting pages.

3) Close Collaboration with Executive Management

As an HRBP, your role goes well beyond that of an internal service provider. Instead, you are executive management’s direct point of contact for anything to do with planning and meeting HR requirements.

You work with razor-sharp management accounting tools and reliable data to support the executive management team in major decisions such as:

  • How many new employees will need to be recruited?

  • Which skills are lacking within the team to maintain an edge over competitors?

You are the one who keeps a clear view and actively helps to shape the company’s future.

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4) Taking Control of Change Processes

The ever-increasing number of challenges people in HR are confronted with is clear evidence of just how important it is to digitalise. Professional roles need to be reconsidered, a new dynamism needs to be injected into established working structures and processes such as recruiting and onboarding need to be made accessible online.

Interested in learning more about change management processes? Click here to read our definitive guide, with examples to help illustrate how to do so effectively.

This is where HRBPs are essential drivers of digitalisation, working closely with executive management and confidently taking control of change processes.

5) Employer Branding

And last but not least: As an HR business partner, it is up to you to bring your company’s corporate culture to life and ensure that it supports growth.

At the same time, it is also your job to communicate your corporate culture and everything to do with it to the outside world. Why? This is strategically essential if you want to recruit the best available employees, both in today’s highly competitive market and in the future.

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How Can You Become An HR Business Partner?

First of all, by developing a new mindset. The attitude toward human resources must change – from viewing it as an internal service that administers staff to appreciating it as a provider of added value that actively shapes HR processes.

This step requires courage, a commitment to change, and a readiness to step away from well-trodden paths from all stakeholders. Digitalisation is both necessary and here to stay – and HR can do so much more than just deal with ad hoc issues. It’s time for HR to evolve as a business partner with:

Greater Decision MakingAs a sounding board for management
Increased Financial ResourcesTo make strategic investments.
Efficient HR ToolsTo assist in digitization (like HR software).
A Refreshed ImageShaping processes rather than handling them.

How Can Companies Benefit From HRBPs?

To put it concisely, with HR as a business partner, HR management becomes a business division that contributes to optimising the creation of value.

As a result, HR is no longer a rigid, only handling admin and driving up their own costs. Instead, they proactively contribute to increasing a company’s bottom line.

Here’s how that shift occurs:

Before An HRBPAfter An HRBP
Suspended recruiting processesContinuous recruiting processes
Delayed onboardingOn time and even pre-onboarding
Chaotic HR planningStrategic workforce planning
Intermittent external communicationsIndustry thought leadership

HR teams that work strategically and use smart digital HR tools, in contrast, will be effective drivers of both branding and growth.

Here’s our rundown of the top five most popular workforce planning tools out there.

HR Business Partners in Everyday HR

The following three aspects are essential if HR is to take on its role as an HR business partner successfully:

  • The executive management’s determination to undergo a paradigm shift.

  • The future HR business partner’s assertiveness and commitment to take on responsibility and familiarise themselves with new tasks and tools.

  • Thorough planning and consistent implementation.

A haphazard approach to a paradigm shift won’t work. If HRBPs are to leave the domain of routine administration behind and start working strategically, they need time to do so, above all. They can make this time by building better, more automated HR processes, that almost run on their own.

After all, HR teams still spend an incredible 42% of their time on administrative tasks. It’s high time that HR business partners be taken seriously in their new role as valuable formative forces and be put at the helm.

If the right environment is created, vast benefits can be reaped, both for corporate success and employee satisfaction, let alone for you as HRBPs – in times of crisis and beyond.

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Personio is an all-in-one HR software designed for every stage of the employee life cycle.

Using Personio, you can manage all your most important HR processes from one place. Recruit, manage, develop and pay your employees from one centralised HRIS.

For HR professionals, you can unlock new levels of productivity and influence. Become the HR business partner that your business needs, by getting back time for what matters: your people.

For line managers, Personio seamlessly builds automated performance cycles, tracks vacation days and keeps employee information up-to-date (and in a compliant fashion).

For employees, no more fussing with cumbersome tools and processes. Employees can request days off, change their information and keep track of goals and more. All from one place.

Speak with an expert today about your HR needs and how Personio can meet them. Or, give Personio a spin for yourself by starting your very own free trial right now. It’s all yours for 14 days.

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