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.
HR Business Partner
Rayna had just received an interesting request. J.B., a recent addition to the front-line management team, had come to her following the division wide quarterly town hall update. The division president, Anne, had given a talk on accountability. She’d been firm in her resolve to increase division wide understanding of what it meant to be accountable at work. J.B. wasn’t questioning the directive. He was struggling with the meaning. What did accountability mean for him as a manager?
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?
The notion that Human Resource (HR) professionals need to be strategic and aligned with their organization’s strategy is not by any means new. In their book The HR Scorecard published almost fifteen years ago, Professors Becker, Huselid and Ulrich noted that “traditional HR skills have not diminished in value, but simply are no longer adequate to satisfy the wider strategic demands of the HR function” (Becker, Huselid and Ulrich, 2001). Since then strategy frameworks and the language of strategic management have evolved. The question is has HR kept up with these, especially in the past year or so?
I’m always stunned when I hear a senior business leader say that their head of HR isn’t one of their key advisors; that the head of HR is often not at the senior executive table when major strategic or market initiatives are being discussed. And yet, in most organizations, human resources are both the largest expense line in the profit & loss statement and the most mission-critical resource: it is only with good people that ANYTHING of business value gets done. For this reason alone, there should be a senior HR professional at the table for every strategic discussion.
Today many vice presidents and other senior executives in human resources (HR) have earned a seat at the executive table by showing their organization’s senior teams that HR operations contribute at least as much as Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance, IT or any other department. The key to this is continuous learning. Jack Welch, former 20-year CEO of world class GE, now an itinerant management guru, is often quoted: “An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Executives who aspire to lead organizations have to spearhead that learning first by learning steadily themselves and that is nowhere truer than for HR.
In 2009, the Alberta government's Connie Scott was a trailblazer, a forerunner in a new learning program that would change the way she and her community would look at their work.
Scott, now a manager of HR Strategies in Enterprise and Advanced Education, was in the first cohort of Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program, a curriculum custom-designed for the Alberta government.
For the Alberta government's Pauline Melnyk, the Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program couldn't have come at a better time. Melnyk was helping design a cumulative effects management system (CEMS) for her department, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. As part of the system, which designs programs and processes based on the cumulative effects of development on the environment, the department itself needed to review its organizational design.
We have moved into an era where traditional support services – HR, Finance, IT, Administration, Legal etc. – are under increasing daily pressure to produce a more direct impact on business results. The business rationale for this pressure is easy to understand. Organizations – both public and private – are being pushed by customers, boards of directors, analysts, and investors to do more with the resources they have or – in many cases – do more with less.
Driving mountain roads can be very tricky. With the exception of those who drive a super-powered something able to negotiate a significant vertical climb, mere mortals learn that reaching the top of the mountain requires learning the skill of turning switchback corners. Go too slowly around the curve, and you run the risk of the vehicle stalling in the climb. Go too fast, and it can be a kissing-the-guardrail moment, or over the edge you go.
At some point in his or her career, a human resource (HR) professional will encounter the notion of "earning a seat at the table." This overused buzz phrase is fraught with meaning and can result in a serious case of consternation. Sitting at "the table," from this writer's perspective, is all about understanding the management systems of the organization, the organization's relationship with its external customers, and the organization's approach to change.