HR Business Partners: Why Every Company Needs Them

HR Business Partner: Let's Make History

With teams suddenly working from home essentially overnight and employees turning toward HR as their first point of contact during this time of crisis, the corona pandemic illustrates clearly just how crucial HR is within companies. HR looks after a company’s most important resource and therefore needs to play a strategic role. Read on to find out just how much the HR department can achieve if it works as an HR business partner, and how you can successfully move it from an administrative into a shaping role.

HR in Crisis – Are You Still Treading Water or Have You Taken the Helm?

Let’s have a look at how a company that views its HR department as an internal service provider is positioned during the Covid-19 crisis: People in HR are used to playing a purely administrative role, but are now expected to act dynamically with a view to delivering solutions. All of a sudden, they are required to look after teams of people working from home across virtual networks, onboard new employees remotely and deploy smart HR technologies. Help!

Ideally, they will flourish, mobilize previously unknown strengths and uncover hidden potential. Even more ideally, they’ll already have trusted digital assistants to take care of administrative tasks, and they’ll work as HR business partners for whom strategic work and crisis scenarios are second nature. But what if they’re not? Then it’s high time to take the current crisis as an opportunity for fundamental change and to look at the potential HR has to offer as a business partner.

Definition – What Do HR Business Partners Do?

An HR business partner is an HR manager who has freed themself of rigid administrative constraints. Instead of working as a HR service provider, they take on tasks of strategic importance for the company, such as HR planning.

As early as in the late 1990s, the US American professor Dave Ulrich claimed that the conventional approach to HR management needed to be updated: HR management should be redefined as a business partner to senior management, given new, extended duties and responsibilities and actively contribute to value creation. This is how he coined the term “HR business partner.”

Partners at Eye Level

The decisive difference is that “HR business partners” aren’t just partners in name but in fact play an active role. They continue to work as points of contact for employees, but they are also important sounding boards for executive management. HR business partners’ expertise provides valuable and reliable management input, and they therefore need to be involved in all major management decisions.

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 achieve even ambitious corporate goals.

HR Business Partners’ 5 Core Tasks

1) Strategic Control of HR Processes

Employees are companies’ most valuable resource, and the current shortage of skilled professionals constitutes one of the greatest challenges in HR. HR business partners have the strategic vision to identify bottlenecks early on and run efficient, smooth recruiting and hiring processes. Beyond that, HR business partners manage employee retention from a basis of sound people analytics data: After all, high turnover rates are one of the major cost drivers within companies.

2) Staff Development & Coaching

Once the right employees have been brought on board, HR business partners ensure that they stay on course and help 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 HR business partner, 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.

Convincing Your Company to Use HR Software

Making the business case for HR software

You’ve found the right HR software and would be very happy to see your administrative workload reduced? We’ll help you convince your internal stakeholders! Read our guide, and your manager’s go-ahead might only be a click away.

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 digitalize. 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. This is where HR business partners are essential drivers of digitalization, 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.

HR in Times of Change – From Staff Administrators to HR Business Partners

“HR management must seek to become a business partner to top management and contribute to the creation of value.” Dave Ulrich, 1997 While Dave Ulrich ushered in a paradigm shift in HR over twenty years ago, things still look different in practice even today. Many companies are still far from viewing HR as a strategic partner to their executive management. Medium-sized companies in particular often continue to view human resources management as dealing with nothing more than administrative tasks.

What Exactly Does This Shift Look Like?

How can this shift be made successfully? 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. But the current situation clearly shows that digitalization is both necessary and here to stay – and that HR can do so much more than just deal with issues ad hoc. It’s time for HR to evolve as a business partner with

  • Greater decision-making powers as an important sounding board for the executive management
  • Increased financial resources and efficient HR tools as digital assistants
  • An updated image as a department that actively shapes rather than merely administers HR processes

How Companies Benefit From HR as a Business Partner

To put it concisely, with HR as a business partner, HR management becomes a business division that contributes to optimizing the creation of value. As a result, HR is no longer a rigid administrative body and pesky driver of costs, but instead contributes proactively to increasing the company’s profits.

Let’s have a brief look at HR business partners in times of the corona crisis to illustrate this even more clearly. The consequences this pandemic will have on individual companies isn’t yet foreseeable, but we know that we’ll definitely emerge from the crisis at some point. Suspended recruiting processes, delayed onboarding, chaotic HR planning and intermittent external communications won’t do anything for successful employer branding or a company’s business goals. HR teams that work strategically and use smart digital HR tools, in contrast, will be effective drivers of both branding and growth.

HR Business Partners in Everyday HR Practice

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 familiarize themselves with new tasks and tools
  • Thorough planning and consistent implementation

A haphazard approach to a paradigm shift won’t work. If HR business partners 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 “outsourcing” operative tasks to digital assistants, i.e. smart HR software solutions. 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 HR business partner – in times of crisis and beyond.

HR Processes Without Administrative Constraints? Try It Out!

Digitizing HRLeave routine tasks to smart digital assistants and find out more about the functionalities Personio provides to support strategic HR work.