The HR Business Partner: A Full Guide

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The HR business partner is a strategic liaison between HR and the business. These senior HR professionals have a deep understanding of the business and ensure that HR helps the business make an impact. However, the HR business partner as a function is changing. In this article, we will discuss how this has changed, what makes a good business partner, and what the difference is between the HR business partner (HRBP) as a role and as a function.

Contents
What is an HR business partner?
Future-ready HR business partner role and responsibilities
HR business partner competencies
HR business partner vs. HR manager
HR business partner salary
FAQ

What is an HR business partner?

The HRBP integrates the HR function – focusing on people – with the business side of things to help the organization reach its business objectives.

Of all HR professionals, the HRBP is mainly customer-facing. This means that the HRBP is in direct touch with line managers. A good HRBP is able to deliver value to the organization and drive decision-making processes. Especially in times of change and disruption, a strong HRBP can ensure that all HR activities are strategically aligned with line manager priorities.

Of everyone in the business, line managers have arguably the strongest understanding of the business. By partnering with these line managers, HR can set priorities and create business impact.

Because the business partner is such a strategic role, they are mostly present in large businesses. A business partner may be responsible for between two hundred to multiple thousands of employees. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the HRBP’s span of control, the more strategic the role.

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Within any organization, HRBP has a range of responsibilities. Gartner identified four different roles of HRBPs that demonstrate this cross-functionality. These are:

  • Operations Manager: Measures and monitors existing policies and procedures
  • Emergency Responder: Provides immediate fixes to acute emergencies
  • Strategic Partner: Crafts and implements enterprise-wide strategies to chronic challenges
  • Employee Mediator: Creates sustained solutions to individual employee challenges

While the HRBP should be a strategic partner and businesses should see them as such, this is not always the case. 57% of C-suite execs view HR as a primarily administrative function. This is mainly due to the HRBP failing to step up and create the strategic role that they should have. Instead, they get bogged down in operational activities, failing to look at the bigger picture and take the helicopter view required to be strategic.

In short, next to being an administrative expert and a champion for employees, HR should also be a change agent and a strategic partner.

The HR business partner as a role

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There is a common misunderstanding between the HRBP as a role and as a function.

So far, we’ve talked about the HRBP as a job function. This is the person with the job function title Human Resource Business Partner, who are the strategic liaisons between HR and the business.

However, the HR business partner can also be a role. This is what we at the Academy to Innovate HR refer to as ‘business partnering’. Not everyone in HR is a business partner, but everyone in HR should be ‘business partnering’. It means that every HR professional should have a deep understanding of the business and try to shape HR policies in a way that helps enable the business.

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Take, for example, a learning & development specialist. This is a specialist with a deep understanding of how people learn and can change their behaviors. Undoubtedly, they would be dysfunctional if they do not understand the business that they are in. When they understand the business, they make better choices, are better at aligning L&D practices with what the business is looking for, and will make more impact.

While in this article we focus mainly on the HRBP as a job function, learning about the HRBP strategic responsibilities and essential competencies is useful for any HR professional who aims to ‘business partner’ and is determined to help their business achieve its goals.

Discover what should the role and responsibilities of future-ready HRBPs look like in this Learning Bite!

Future-ready HR business partner role and responsibilities

A senior HR director shared a story about two different types of business partners. The first gets up in the morning, comes to work, sits down in a managers’ office with a notebook, and asks, “How can I help you today?” The manager starts complaining, and the business partner starts writing and gets a list of tasks. This is an administrative HR Business Partner.

The second kind of HRBP is much rarer. Before they talk to the manager, they look at the data–from turnover to learning and development rates–they look to see where the manager needs help. This same business partner looks at the key performance indicators–how well is this manager performing? This HRBP thinks, how can I help this manager succeed? They write their notes and go into the meeting with actionable plans that are KPI-driven.

The following model is an adaption of a paper of Lambert (2009), co-founder of the Corporate Research Forum. It shows three different levels of HR business partners within the HR organization.

BP Title Seniority Title Strategic role
Senior HRBP Senior VP HR, HRDs, HR managers (large) Lead the business conversation
HRBP Mid-level BPs, HRDs, HR managers (small) Contribute to business conversation
HR Generalist Junior Associate BPs, CoE specialists, HR graduates Follow business conversation
People with the HR Business Partner job title are not the only business partners in HR. Depending on their seniority, different professionals are expected to either follow, contribute to, or lead the business conversation.

To be able to truly lead the business conversation, the role of an HRBP has to become more strategic to help organizations increase their productivity, profitability, and competitiveness.

So what should the HR business partner responsibilities look like looking forward?

Preparing for the future of work and HRM.

The business world doesn’t stand still, and neither does the HRBP. Reskilling, upskilling, technology adaptation, strategic workforce planning, retooling business culture to fit a digital workforce, and concentrating on the employee experience are all necessary parts of the future of HR.

All things considered, HR business partners will play a significant role in preparing their organization for what’s to come.

HR Business Partner Role and Responsibilities

Being a coach and a consultant.

An HRBP needs to understand how current and future challenges affect the people at their organization. A consultant comes in with more knowledge about a subject than the client–this means an HRBP must stay up to date, communicate effectively with key stakeholders, and provide advice and coaching to them.

Putting business acumen to work.

Business acumen is an indispensable competency for every HR professional, especially for HRBPs. It represents the keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business risk or opportunity in a way that leads to a good outcome. The HRBP connects business challenges to HR activities and outcomes and helps the organization tackle these challenges.

Correspondingly, HR business partners are aware of their organization’s sources of competitive advantage, market value, competitors, and their unique selling points, market share, and development. Furthermore, they understand the marketplace, the role of technology, and possess a deep understanding of all relevant stakeholders.

Building a competitive organization.

Businesses compete for clients as well as for employees. The HRBP helps the organization with succeeding on both fronts. HRBPs help businesses strategize, train, and adapt to make the best product (whatever that may be) as well as strategize, train, and adapt to recruit and retain the best talent. The HRBP needs not only an understanding of people but also of finance and operations to build a competitive organization.

Empowering leaders.

HRBPs “…work proactively with business leaders on various workforce challenges and strategies.” An effective HRBP must empower business leaders to make their own decisions and handle employee emergencies on their own. HR should be a backup for an emergency, not the first stop–and that begins with empowering leaders.

Using data to influence decisions.

Data is a crucial way to know if you are on the right track. Without it, you are guessing at decisions. An HRBP uses data strategically and can track KPIs and use them to drive performance.

This includes a strong contextual understanding of the business as well as the local and cultural issues relevant to the regions your organization is active in. For example, when the business is looking to open a production facility in Indonesia, you are looking for different data then when you have an attrition problem in your North American facilities.

Strengthening company culture and employee experience.

Focusing on people and on how cultural transformation can help achieve organizational goals is one of the core responsibilities of future-ready HRBPs. Furthermore, they are continuously improving employee experience, as this is crucial for the business success of any company.

HR business partner competencies

An HRBP needs many skills, but four are central to effectiveness in the role: data-driven, business acumen, digital integration, and people’s advocate. When people think of HR, they focus more on the administrative side and less on the data side. However, that’s the complete opposite for an HRBP.

Here’s how those skills play out in the role of HRBP:

Data literacy

The HRBP needs to understand data interpretation, collection, and creation. When creating guidelines for performance reviews, for instance, the HRBP needs to do so in a manner that will collect usable data. Gone are the days where HR could react based on gut feelings. On the contrary, an HRBP needs to be able to read a dashboard and reports with complex data and act on that data.

Business acumen

As we’ve mentioned above, business acumen is not just about understanding finance principles but understanding risk and reward and business outcomes. If an HR business partner for a printer manufacturer doesn’t understand the printer business, they won’t be successful in the role. In other words, they need to be business savvy.

Sometimes, a strong HRBP will have worked in line management and then received intensive HR training to take over the HRBP role. While most HR skills are transferable from industry to industry, an HRBP needs industry-specific understanding to be effective. 

Digital integration

This is the ability to leverage technology to increase efficiency and drive business results. Adopting the right technology improves digital employee experience, which, in turn, increases engagement and communication. On the other hand, adopting the wrong technology can increase workloads, hinder productivity, and create disgruntled, frustrated employees.

People advocacy

The first job of any HR person is to support the business, but often HR does so through advocating for the people. Companies cannot survive and succeed without good people who are treated fairly and rewarded for their good work. An HRBP needs to advocate for employees and push back when needed. Doing this properly protects the business from lawsuits, unwanted turnover, and unhappy employees.

In addition to the four core competencies, there are other skills that help HRBPs to be effective in their jobs, including:

  • Excellent stakeholder management. In order to get things done in business, you need to understand a little bit of the political landscape. You need to be aware of what others are aware of, and the interests and focus area of different business and HR leaders. For example, if there is consensus on challenges, it is much easier to come up with HR interventions that are supported by the business than when there is a lack of consensus.
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills. To manage stakeholders effectively and to support the business through value-adding initiatives, the HRBP needs excellent communication and presentation skills. The HRBP is the connection between HR and the business, so it is their responsibility to pick up key signals.
  • Effective at dealing with resistance. In line with stakeholder management and communication skills, the HRBP should be effective in dealing with resistance. Once opportunities for HR interventions are identified, HR and the business should work closely together to implement these as well as they can.

HR business partner vs. HR manager

What are the main differences between the HR business partner vs. HR manager?

Because no governing body regulates HR titles, some companies use these terms interchangeably.

First, let’s look at the similarities. Both are active in HR, and both are usually on the senior side of the HR population. Effective HR business partners have 10+ years of experience in the field, and this usually also holds true for the HR manager.

When it comes to day-to-day work, there are differences. The HR manager has management responsibilities. They manage an HR department and have people working for them. An HR manager also has responsibilities covering things like recruiting, benefits and payroll administration, and government reports.

The HRBP usually has no management responsibility. As a general rule, HR Business Partners are individual contributors who directly support the business or a business function. They operate as advisors and consultants and are data-driven. They should not be focused on administrative functions but on strategic ones.

But, there can often be overlap between the two roles. For instance, many small organizations have one or two HR people who manage every aspect of HR, from the administrative to the strategic.

HR business partners often operate on a senior level as they work most closely with management and leadership rather than with individuals. An HR manager is likely to coach an employee on how to interact with their boss, while an HRBP is likely to coach a Vice President on how to interact with their team as a whole. An entry-level employee may never contact an HR Business partner, as they would go to an employee relations specialist with concerns and aren’t in charge of directing projects where they need strategic guidance.

HR business partner salary

Salary ranges for the HR business partner differ based on seniority level, type of organization and location. According to Payscale, a junior HR business partner with 1-4 years of experience based in New York (NY) has a median salary of about $77,000 while one based in Houston (TX) has a median salary of $69,000. A senior HRBP has a median salary of approximately $122,000 in New York and $95,000 in Houston.

Across the US, the median HR business partner salary is $75,793/year.

A final word

The HR Business Partner role and responsibilities are becoming more and more strategic, as we’re in the digital age and changes happen very quickly. A competent HR business partner can alleviate the stress that often falls on leadership teams by thinking strategically, planning for the future, and helping to integrate technology into the workflow. 

An HR Business Partner must continuously learn and keep abreast of new developments with HR and within the business sector. By doing this, the HRBPs help their organizations become more successful. In a word, as a people-savvy and business-savvy HRBP, you can have a strong positive impact on your business.

FAQ

What is an HR Business Partner?

An HR business partner is a Human Resource professional who actively integrates the business strategy with people management practices. The business partner is the link between HR and the business, advising and supporting managers on strategic issues and helping them implement high-performing, integrated HR practices.

What does an HR Business Partner do?

An HR business partner supports the business managers through the alignment of HR activities with the organizational strategy. The HRBP helps solve business issues through the people side of the business. Crucial skills are business acumen, digital integration, people advocacy, strategic aptitude, understanding of HR, data analytics skills, and excellent stakeholder management.

How to become an HR Business Partner?

For an entry-level junior HR business partner, a degree in business or HRM is required as well as excellent communication, stakeholder management, and data savviness among other things. A senior-level HR business partner requires 10+ years of experience in relevant HR and business roles.

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