HR needs to be wary of losing its role altogether

With all the discussion about business partners and HR becoming more strategic, there are three things that strike me.

First, the fact that there is a need for the ‘HR business partner’ job title at all is rather confusing. Surely HR, by its very nature, is already a partner of the business, working with chief executives and other directors to help achieve the organisation’s strategic goals through maximising the potential of its people?

Second, with the outsourcing of transactional duties and the devolution of responsibility to line managers, could you be doing yourselves out of a job?

And third, now that many of the bread-and-butter activities are carried out by a shared-services centre, are you suitably equipped to add the value that business partners promise?

The latter was one of the topics debated at last week’s HR Directors Club workshop on talent management, which was sponsored by Diagonal Consulting. Graeme Martin and Martin Reddington, two leading thinkers in the HR field, issued a stark warning to HR professionals: if you don’t get your act together, then you risk being colonised by other parts of the business that are moving into the people management arena (such as marketing or communications), and which understand that people are the real drivers behind the brand, service and reputation of an organisation. HR’s future relevance, they added, will be dependent on practitioners becoming familiar with employer branding, corporate governance and reputation management.

This, of course, has implications for the training of HR professionals. If you’re going to avoid parachuting in these skills from elsewhere, then there is a strong argument for teaching on HR courses to focus less on HR, and more on what really matters in business.

As Martin and Reddington put it, whether HR staff operate under the ‘business partner’ job title or not, if they don’t understand business, they risk becoming dinosaurs.

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