Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Are HR Business Partners a Dying Breed?

Two decades ago David Ulrich published his book Human Resource Champions outlining his ideas on how Human Resources could realign itself to meet the needs of the business it supported.

In it's core the HR Business Partner model is pretty straight forward, a centralized or out sourced HR Services function focusses on the transactional stuff, subject matter experts e.g. benefits, policy etc provide the knowledge and business minded HR partners embeded into business units, add bottom line value.

To what degree this has actually happened is up for debate and to be fair the three dimensional approach to HR wasn't necessarily Ulrich's design, he was concerned with framing HR in a way that would free the more business savvy, strategically minded to focus on adding value to the customer.

One prominent view is that despite a change of title the reality is that many HR business partners remain part of a function that is reactive rather than proactive, focussed on procedure and transaction orientated. From my experience the HR business partner approach has worked better in larger organizations where transactional work can be outsourced (not always popular in itself) or undertaken by shared services, elsewhere where HR either can't articulate its transformation to operational units or where line managers are unwilling or unable to take on additional responsibilities that were the work of HR the idea can become a non-starter.

So what can be done?

One consideration is to match the model for HR in a business with the structure of the company itself i.e. if the company is centralized and functional then HR should follow the same model, this would be a view shared by Ulrich who seems frustrated that the people have not evolved the idea rather than taking a cookie cutter approach.

Linked to this is being realistic, what does the company want & need from its HR function, in many cases, as mentioned earlier, line managers don't want or aren't able to take on the more transactional nature of the HR role. In my experience corporately in HR this would translate itself into line managers happy to take on the responsibilities they wanted, hiring and firing for example, but not wanting the rest i.e. payroll & benefits, complaints, trade union negotiations.

Some commentators have suggested that HR managers can be upskilled, re-tooled and rebadged, so that they are highly articulate influencers, with commercial and business savvy, an extensive knowledge of HR best practice, well qualified with a sound experience of both HR and Operations. No mention of these people having a "S" emblazoned on their chest! 

Are we being too unrealistic in our desire for the HR business partner? I'd love to hear from HR business partners and their Operations colleagues, how do you see it?

I am Canada’s “Champion of Great Leadership” I work with companies developing leaders to optimize the performance of their teams. 

Check out our range of Leadership Training programs at Bluegem Learning - Leadership Programs.

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