Inexperienced HR professionals mean business partner model will always struggle

A shortage of quality business partners is damaging the much-feted model, a senior HR director said at Harrogate last night.

Matt Watson, HR director for train company Southern, told delegates at the annual Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development conference that there were not many good business partners available.

A backlash against HR academic Dave Ulrich’s business partner model began earlier this year when less than half of managers polled by research firm Roffey Park said it had been successful.

But Watson said: “The business partner role is bang on. But we don’t have the system in place to deliver the people with the capabilities to do it well.”

He said he was finding it very hard to fill a vacancy for a business partner, as a succession of applicants had lacked the necessary skills.

Watson told Personnel Today afterwards: “We have struggled to recruit candidates with the right behavioural capabilities, influencing skills, drive, pragmatism, authenticity and an HR generalist background.”

He added: “The gap between junior HR roles and business partners is still big. There are lots of people doing business partner roles who are not really capable of them. They are just doing the same things as before.”

Ulrich launched the business partner model with his 1997 book Human Resource Champions: the Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results.

It set out a future where basic administrative HR was taken care of by low-cost, shared-service centres, while a small team of business partners were given higher-paid jobs concentrating on people strategies.

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