The Human Resources Business Partner

Introduction

The Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) is a popular designation for many human resources professionals in today’s Canadian organizations. However, there seems to be no consistent definition of this role and its responsibilities. This article will attempt to describe the most common organizational structures or models used by HR departments to incorporate HRBPs and will review the strengths and challenges of these models. It will also illustrate the duties and the necessary skills of the fully competent HRBP and make recommendations for organizations considering creating HRBP roles.

Assumptions underlying the HRBP Model

At the heart of the Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) model is the assumption that an HR professional should become a strategic partner with line managers to help fulfill business goals.[1] Its intent is to “help HR professionals integrate more thoroughly into business processes and align their day-to-day work with business outcomes. This means focusing more on deliverables and business results than HR activities.”[2]

A second assumption is that the human side of the business is a key source of competitive advantage. The HRBP model enables the organization to optimize its human capital by bringing human resources considerations into strategic plans.

The success of the HRBP model also depends on several other key assumptions, namely that the HR partner is sufficiently skilled and prepared for this challenging role, that the line managers being “helped” are willing to accept the new model, and that HR work is restructured so that other more traditional HR functions are also being performed adequately.

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[1] Ulrich, D. (1998). ‘A new mandate for human resources’. Harvard Business Review, 76: 1, 124–134.

[2] Ulrich, D. & Brockbank, W. (2009). ‘The HR Business-Partner Model: Past Learnings and Future Challenges’.  People and Strategy, 32/2, 5-7.

From HR Practitioner to HR Leader: Competencies Required

You have your CHRP designation. Now as you begin to climb the ladder to success, what else must you learn to advance your career? One start is to develop the competencies you will need to become a true HR leader. But here the confusion begins. There are many different competencies and competency models proposed by various academics and associations. If you cannot determine with confidence which to trust, how can you decide where to invest your time, money and development efforts?

This article aims to reduce the confusion as much as possible in order to make your decisions easier. Let’s begin by sampling the most important academic research into HR competencies.

Download PDF: From HR Practitioner to HR Leader: Competencies Required

FREE E-BOOK: The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change

The tough work of change management is the critical piece in successful change projects. This tough work is often neglected by change leaders and change agents, who place too much emphasis on high-level change planning and not enough emphasis on implementation.

Based on more than twenty years of Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s research, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change walks you through the change management process, from start to finish.

This free e-book takes the complex concepts of change management and makes them as simple as possible, offering frameworks, guidelines, checklists and key questions to ensure that all of the important issues in a change initiative are not neglected. Case studies and examples enable the reader to work through these concepts and apply them to their own change initiatives.

Dr. Beatty draws conclusions about the key success factors of planned change, based on her change management research in hundreds of organizations and relevant literature.

In this e-book, you will learn:

  1. How to choose the right people with the right skills to plan and implement a successful change project, including a change champion, a steering committee, an executive sponsor and implementation teams.
  2. How to create a sense of urgency for the change throughout the organization.
  3. The steps to create an inspiring change vision that will truly motivate people to buy into the change.
  4. How to create a complete roadmap for implementing your change successfully, using a framework and key questions.
  5. Ways to deal with resistance to change, convert resisters and create support for the change.
  6. The essential role of communication during change, including a communications model and advice to help you develop your own communication plan.
  7. How to find a change leader with the skills and attributes of a true change champion.

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Hunter Harrison and the Transformation of Canadian National Railway

When Hunter Harrison joined the recently-privatized Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1998 as Chief Operating Officer, the company was generally acknowledged as one of the worst railroads in North America, highly indebted, perpetually in the red, and losing market share to the more efficient, flexible and newly deregulated U.S. railway and trucking industries. Recruited by Chief Executive Officer, Paul Tellier, for his skills and experience at Illinois Central, Harrison along with Tellier moved swiftly to transform CNR into a “scheduled precision railway” and to introduce needed efficiencies. Soon thereafter the company shed over 11,000 employees and thousands of miles of track.

After Tellier left the company in 2003, Harrison was appointed as his successor. The challenge was enormous. A cultural overhang still existed from the railway’s public sector days when it was more of an employment generation device than a business, complete with regionalism, isolation from commercial pressures, formal chains of command, hostile unions and a culture of entitlement. Would Harrison be able to complete the transformation or would the company sink back into mediocrity? Fast forward to 2008 and CNR was then widely recognized as the most efficient railway in North America. How he accomplished this cultural transformation is nothing short of miraculous.

An effective change leader needs five skills which I call the five Ps: Passion, Plan, Persuasion, Partnering and Perseverance, and Harrison had all of them in abundance.

Download PDF: Hunter Harrison and the Transformation of Canadian National Railway

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

Communicating During an Organizational Change

Most experts would agree that communication is a vital ingredient in successful change initiatives, and there is much research to support this assertion. My own research revealed a very high correlation between change success and communications efforts (Pearson correlation r = 0.567, significant at the 0.01 level). Furthermore, it has also been shown that ineffective internal communication is a major contributor to the failure of change initiatives.(1) For example, Sally Woodward and Chris Hendry surveyed 198 employees in U.K. financial services institutions undergoing change and asked them to specify the barriers to change.(2) Two of the six barriers identified were: lack of adequate communications (not being kept informed, receiving conflicting messages, wanting to understand but not being given explanations) and lack of consultation. In my view, expert communication is indispensable when persuading people to support change. Some researchers even claim that the essence of change is communication; that is, that communication produces change rather than merely serving as one tool in its implementation.(3)

Communication efforts during a large change project attempt to persuade stakeholders to adopt a new view of the future, but before they can arrive at this new conviction, three things must be absolutely clear to them: the “why,” “what” and “how” of the change.

The importance of answering the “why” questions is backed by much empirical research. For example, Paul Nutt, in his study of major change at a hospital setting, found that employees were more likely to accept the change if they felt it was justified.(4)

Download PDF: Communicating During an Organizational Change

> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

A Closer Look at Resistance to Change

Introductory Case Study: Transition to a Flexible Work Environment

In 2001, all non-computer products and services of the Ottawa branch of Hewlett-Packard were grouped into a new company called “Agilant” and moved out of the existing branch office. The remaining one hundred employees at the Ottawa branch office were solely responsible for the sales and servicing of Hewlett-Packard’s latest computer systems and software programs. At the same time, those at the Ottawa branch embarked upon a change initiative called “New Generation Workplace” (NGW), whose objectives were to reduce fixed office space costs by significantly reducing the number of desks and at the same time to move from a traditional to a flexible work environment. These changes had been mandated by headquarters in the United States. After these two changes, the size of the physical office was reduced by 35 percent and employees were encouraged to spend less time in the office by working from home.

Effective in March 2001, the majority of employees in the sales, servicing and marketing departments were no longer entitled to a designated desk space. In exchange, they were offered a choice between two drawers or space in a filing cabinet. A reduced number of workstations were made available by a reservation for a period of one to three days at a time. When they had not reserved a desk, employees were expected to work from home or out of a client’s office.

Initially, this initiative was met with skepticism. As one employee said: “We’ve lost the privilege of calling a certain desk our own, but the whole project hasn’t changed things all that much. I’m not sure if they’ll be getting rid of more desks in the future or not. For the time being, for all the hype there are still just as many people in the office as ever.” Sales members whose quotas were dependent upon team performance were also skeptical of the new approach. One sales employee stated: “By nature, sales people require high affiliation, so it won’t work.”

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

 

The How of Change

After you know who will lead a change initiative, why the change is necessary and what future you are trying to create, you come to the “how”—the activities you must plan to implement the change successfully. This is tough work because of the countless details that must be thought through and included in a change rollout plan. Forget something crucial here, and your change may be in jeopardy, as is highlighted in the following case study.

Case Study: Bad Form? The Introduction of a New Client Assessment Technology

To policymakers at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC), introducing a common computerized form to assess people for long-term health care services must have seemed relatively straightforward. After all, there was widespread agreement about the need for a tool to standardize case management and assessment practices and to promote information-sharing as a way of reducing inefficiencies, duplication and regional disparities.

Further, homecare workers had become experts at managing change: Since Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) were created in 1995, employees had weathered years of ongoing public reforms, culminating in the Community Care Access Corporations Act.

The Act, passed in December 2001, radically altered the focus and administration of community healthcare services. When the first wave of reforms began to flow out of the new law in April 2002, the Resident Assessment Instrument–Home Care (RAI-HC) tool was among them. The MOHLTC, expecting smooth sailing and that CCACs would easily adapt, decided that within the year all case managers would be using the new tool to assess their clients for long-term care health services.

To Ontario’s CCAC managers and employees—practised navigators of change—however, this prospect was overwhelming. For one thing, the RAI-HC was supposed to allow case managers with laptops to conduct interviews in clients’ homes and enter information about their needs for homecare and long-term care services directly into computerized forms. But case managers, with an average age of forty-five and minimal computer skills, were daunted by laptops, the complex forms and special client software. “How, within six months, are we to be confidently interviewing people by their bedsides and keying the information into the two hundred and fifty fields of the form using a laptop?” they wondered. They could picture ailing clients enduring needlessly long consultations, they became anxious about job security because they didn’t have the required computer skills, and they got more and more dispirited. They felt they’d been given no opportunity to participate in planning for change and would be blamed for a mess mandated from above when things didn’t work out.

Download PDF: The How of Change

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

The What of Change

Most experts advocate creating a vision as a necessary step in any change initiative. But managers have a tough time following this advice. Change vision statements are often too long, too confusing or too generic to motivate action in the direction of the change. It’s tough to condense the vision into a couple of sentences or paragraphs that sing, but it is worthwhile to try. For example, Google’s pithy vision statement has long provided a guiding star for employees to follow: “To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.” Contrast it with the following vision statement from an actual Fortune 500 firm that shall remain nameless: “Our vision is to maximize shareholder value by enhancing financial performance and providing long-term profitable growth.” Very few employees are going to spring out of bed each morning full of enthusiasm to “maximize shareholder value.”

A clear vision is important for change leaders to think through because it forces you to identify exactly what you are aiming for instead of some vague, fuzzy or rosy picture of the future. It is important for your employees, too. During times of change, they want leaders who have a clear vision and communicate a clear message. As John Kotter famously said: “Without a vision, change can dissolve into a list of confusing, incompatible, time-consuming projects that either go in the wrong direction or nowhere at all.”

So I hope we can agree that a vision is important. Now let’s observe a vision in action and follow Cirque du Soleil through its growth into a large, successful, international arts organization.

Download PDF: The What of Change

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

Key Success Factors of Planned Change Projects

The statistics about the implementation of change in organizations are dismal. For decades now, business writers from all walks of life have been bemoaning the large failure rate of change projects. For example, one study reported that 70 percent of critical change efforts fail to achieve their intended results.(1) Additionally, more executives are fired for mismanaging change than other reasons, such as ignoring customers.(2) The Gartner Group, reporting on IT change projects, stated that 28 percent were abandoned before completion, 46 percent were behind schedule or over budget, and 80 percent were not used in the way they were intended – or at all – six months after installation.(3) Too often change projects fail not because the ideas themselves were poor but because the implementations were flawed. Take the following case study as an example of the pitfalls that can doom the implementation of a new policy.

Download PDF: Key Success Factors of Planned Change Projects

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

The Tough Work of Managing Change

The literature on change management contains a lot of advice about formulating a change idea and planning it at a high level but much less on how to implement the idea once it has been created. For example, although strategy implementation is viewed as an integral part of the strategic management process, little has been written or researched on it. Likewise, in the public sector there is a great deal of advice on how to formulate public policy, and many academic courses teach this. But try to find a course or a book on getting that policy implemented successfully, and you will find very little. Why should this be so? I believe that implementing a change is a lot tougher than planning it because you actually have to deal with people instead of just things and concepts. Concepts do not resist or argue back. But this is not accepted wisdom. Senior leaders often believe that a great change idea should be easy to implement, that anyone can do it. So it is less glamorous and attracts fewer accolades.

Top management often backs the implementation effort in words but not in actions. When that happens, implementation problems occur that have not been anticipated or expected. For example, in one study the following implementation problems occurred in over half of the firms studied during their implementation effort.

Download PDF: The Tough Work of Managing Change

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

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