The HR Business Partner Career Path & Progression: An Informative Guide

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The HR Business Partner Career Path & Progression: An Informative Guide

Whether you want to become an HR Business Partner, you want to learn more about being an HR Business Partner as a career, or you want to know what roles you can move on to as an HRBP, you need first to understand what core competencies and skills you should focus on to shape your career. We’ll explore everything you need to know about HR Business Partner career progression in this article.

Let’s dive into the HR Business Partner career path!

How to become an HR Business partner
– Core competencies
– Role-related skills
HR Business Partner career progression
– “I want to grow in advising the business on strategic HR matters.”
– “I want to specialize more in a specific domain of HR.”
– “I want to work with implementing HR technologies and digital solutions.”

How to become an HR Business partner

An HR Business Partner (also known as an HRBP) is a champion of people in an organization, a change agent, an HR administration expert, and a strategic business partner. They play a strategic role in aligning an organization’s people strategy with its business strategy.

While an HRBP is typically part of the Human Resources department, they work closely with line managers and senior business leaders to set priorities, drive values, and deliver business results. A Human Resources Business Partner is sometimes responsible for hundreds of employees, and sometimes thousands depending on the size of the organization.

Although the exact role and responsibilities of an HRBP will vary depending on the company size, industry, and objectives, several duties remain constant across the board. These include:

  • Strategic planning
  • Coaching and consulting leadership about HR matters 
  • Building a competitive organization
  • Being a company culture and employee experience champion

It’s important to note that the career path to becoming an HR Business Partner is often not linear. Some professionals begin their careers as HR administrators or assistants. Others start as coordinators in support functions such as learning or organizational development, some start as benefits administrators or recruiters, and others begin as HR Officers or Consultants.

The key message is that job titles are less important than your competencies and skills when aiming to progress into and beyond an HRBP position.

Let’s explore the core competencies and skills you need to be a successful HR Business Partner. These are the skills you need to work on developing before stepping into the HRBP role and while in it.

Don’t hesitate to explore our HR Career Path tool to get personalized recommendations for what competencies and skills you need to develop for your dream HR role!

Competencies and skills

If HR professionals want to be ready for the future, they need to master the four core HR competencies (business acumen, data literacy, digital dexterity, and people advocacy) and also develop one or more functional competencies.

This approach leads to strategic T-shaped HR professionals, who play a critical role in meeting the needs of the changing workforce today and in the future.

T-Shaped Framework

A T-shaped individual can make evidence-based decisions, achieve and maintain operational efficiency, create business impact, and increase productivity and profit while remaining competitive.

Let’s break down the competencies and their dimensions that are the most important for HR Business Partners.

Core competencies

Business acumen

Did you know that 4 out of every 10 CHROs believe business acumen to be the most lacking skill amongst HR talent? Yet, this ability to understand the business is arguably the strongest predictor of business impact.

Business acumen (also known as business sense or business savvy) is the ability of an HR professional to understand the goals, purpose, and vision of their organization, then devise processes, policies, and operations that align with this and help drive it forward. It enables you to serve the organization’s employees and customers and boost leadership development and financial performance.

Business acumen comprises multiple dimensions, and the following are key for competent HR Business Partners:

  • Context interpretation – To build business acumen, an HRBP must be able to identify, interpret and apply insight regarding how external trends influence the business. This is known as context interpretation and requires a solid grasp of market trends, the forces currently impacting the company (as well as those that might occur in the future), and awareness of macroeconomic and social factors that affect the organization. 
  • Customer-focused – An HRBP must also understand the organization’s products and services and the target end customer. With this knowledge, they can align HR policies to optimize delivered value and solve customers’ needs.  
  • HR mastery – Through knowledge of HR trends, Human Resource Management, and expertise in HR processes and practices, HRBPs can take actions that create real impact and build trust with stakeholders. 
    • HR strategy formulation – When HRBPs understand their organizations’ values, and what makes them successful, they can apply this knowledge to formulate aligned business strategies with leaders. Key areas they will need to work on include the reskilling and upskilling of employees, workforce planning, and succession planning.
    • HR advisory – An HRBP must also have a solid grasp of how current and future challenges affect the employees within their organization. This will enable them to provide effective advice and coaching to stakeholders to empower leaders to deal with people matters.
    • HR policies and procedure development – Finally, HRBPs must stay up-to-date on laws and regulations concerning employees and other legal requirements to ensure the organization remains compliant. They guide the leadership team on how HR policies and procedures should be created and rolled out across the business.

Check out the full article on business acumen for HR professionals to find out how to develop your business acumen.

Data literacy

The second core competency for an HR Business Partner is data literacy. Data is an asset to any organization; therefore, HRBPs must be able to understand, interpret and apply and translate data in meaningful ways to make strategic decisions and create business value (also known as analytics translation). 

An HRBP would often be able to read and interpret dashboards and reports of complex data, understand HR analytics techniques, be familiar with quantitative and qualitative data collection methods, and know-how to set up and track key metrics and KPIs and use these to drive business results. 

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This requires an ability to think critically about what a set of data represents, deduce relevant information from it, and apply the data for specific purposes. Developing this skill is essential in staying relevant in the business world today and tomorrow and becoming a strategic partner to the business.

People advocacy

At its core, Human Resources revolves around people. Although HR does need to be business-orientated and data-literate, it’s essential not to overlook the fact that being a people advocate and expert is a fundamental part of an HR professional’s role. 

  • Culture and workplace champion – Good organizational culture doesn’t just happen. It requires work, strategic planning, and a considered rollout. Those who allow their culture to develop independently will likely find it does not contribute to the organization’s success or results in a toxic culture.

    People advocacy centers on creating a strong, positive internal culture that drives the best from employees by ensuring they’re happy, engaged, and motivated at work. Why? Because this leads to higher productivity, team morale, and a reduction in turnover. A competent HRBP will be able to assess the current organizational culture, know where they want it to be, and create steps to get there.

    As a workplace champion, you will be a credible, trusted, and ethical advocate for all people, including those who are often marginalized and overlooked. To do this, you must ensure diverse and inclusive hiring practices and build a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees. You must also know and comply with national and local labor laws to ensure employees receive the right pay, proper overtime pay, and pension contributions, creating a safe and legal environment for all.

Discover how to become a true people advocate here.

Role-related skills

Stakeholder management

Stakeholders always think and act based on numbers. For this reason, HRBPs must speak the same language if they want to influence and work in harmony with senior executives.

The ability to effectively manage stakeholders means you can use their valuable input to define and outline your proposed projects and gain the resources and support you need to ensure they are a success. Failure to get backing from stakeholders is one of the primary reasons projects fail.

Labor relations management

Regardless of the size of the organization you’re managing, it’s nearly impossible to please all leaders and employees all the time. This can often lead to strained relationships, which is where labor relations management plays a crucial role. 

It’s your job as an HRBP to:

  • bring both leaders and employees up to speed on best business practices,
  • understand multiple viewpoints,
  • remain compliant,
  • navigate challenges smoothly,
  • negotiate better contracts,
  • and reinforce a positive onboarding experience for all employees.

That way, everyone feels supported, and positive reputations and relationships are preserved across the organization. 

Change management

Research by Gartner shows that the average organization has gone through five major changes within the past three years, while 75% of organizations expect that figure to multiply within the next three years. Therefore, a business must be ready to deal with change management consistently.

Any time a business changes—no matter how significant or small—HR changes, and it’s up to HRBPs to manage this change during the transition to create a smooth journey for all involved. 

HRBPs need to ensure all HR professionals receive training in change management. The desire for an organization to manage change effectively begins with individuals being able to manage change effectively. It’s also important that HRBPs create a safe environment for HR professionals to discuss change and their frustrations and concerns, the same way employees are often allowed to. 

HR Business Partner career progression

Now that you know what skills you need to thrive in the HRBP role, let’s have a look at what an HR Business Partner career path can look like moving forward.

Many HRBPs think that the logical next step is to become a senior HRBP, a global HRBP, or HR Director. In other words, they are looking at linear career progression options. However, this is only one of the HR Business Partner career paths.

The HR career path does not have to be linear and is often not. Rather, it’s a series of experiences that allow HR professionals to develop their core competencies, skills, and knowledge and determine where their passion and talent are best-suited.

When planning your HR career path, it’s important to understand the various possible roles and progression and what is required to get there. Armed with this knowledge, HR professionals can focus on building foundational competencies and skills, making them T-shaped individuals, thus broadening their opportunities for future career progression.

Let’s explore the three main HR Business Partner career paths suggested by AIHR’s HR and OD Thought Leader Dieter Veldsman below.

1. “I want to grow in advising the business on strategic HR matters.”

Future possible roles:

  • HR Manager
  • Global HRBP
  • HR Director
  • Head of HR

T-shaped competencies to be acquired and developed: 

  • Business acumen
  • Championing culture and the workplace
  • Navigating communications and change

Skills to be acquired and developed: 

  • Business strategy creation
  • Change management
  • Business transformation
  • Stakeholder relations management
HR Business Partner Career Path

2. “I want to specialize more in a specific domain of HR.”

Future possible roles:

  • L&D Consultant
  • L&D Manager
  • Chief Learning Officer
  • DEIB Specialist
  • DEIB Manager
  • Chief Diversity Officer
  • Talent Manager
  • OD Head
  • OD Executive

T-shaped competencies to be acquired and developed: 

  • Functional competence
  • Data literacy (being data-driven and having proficiency in analytics translation)
  • Becoming a digital culture architect 

Skills to be acquired and developed: 

  • Design thinking
  • Process mapping
  • Organizational diagnosis (needs analysis)

3. “I want to work with implementing HR technologies and digital solutions.”

Future possible roles:

  • HR Scrum Manager
  • HR Analyst
  • HR Operations Manager
  • Shared Services Manager

T-shaped competencies to be acquired and developed: 

  • Digital dexterity (being a digital culture architect and a technology steward)
  • Data literacy (being data-driven and having proficiency in analytics translation)

Skills to be acquired and developed: 

  • Workflow management
  • Operational excellence
  • Technology formulation
  • HR digitization

As you can see, there’s definitely more than one way your HR Business Partner career can progress. Check out our HR Career Path tool and design your own career path!

Over to you

You need to see your core competencies and skills as building blocks on your HR Business Partner career path. Knowing what skills and competencies you need to develop your career will help you create a concrete action plan to work towards. Start upskilling today so you can be an asset to any organization today and as the HR landscape develops in the future. 

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