My next move: moving from a generalist to a business partner

I have been an HR generalist for some years and would like a role as an HR business partner. Can you suggest some key areas I should focus on to achieve this?

The term ‘business partner’ is often over and inaccurately used. However, the principle of an HR function operating strategically, aligning itself to the business, is a good one and should be what HR strives to achieve. With this in mind, here are some areas that you can focus on to expand your skill base:

  • Business understanding: Make it your business to understand the long- and short-term business goals and the commercial implications of a satisfied, efficient employee base. The modern HR practitioner must be aware of the ‘service profit chain’ from employee to customer – how is your role improving the customer experience?
  • Quantifiable results: Justify HR investment against results, in a language that the finance director understands. Develop a method of quantifying success and failure before embarking on each HR project. These measurable successes will be feathers in your career cap and are likely to be discussed at your next interview or appraisal.
  • Proactivity: Seek out areas of business change and identify how HR can play an integral part. The business will probably perceive HR as an afterthought, so you will have to go looking for trouble. Volunteer to spearhead projects that may not be core to HR to give you more rounded business exposure.
  • Visibility: It is your role as the business partner to ensure HR is perceived as a function that adds value. Consequently, a crucial skill is internal communication, which often involves working in conjunction with the marketing department.
  • Network: While you will probably have a network of HR colleagues with whom you share ideas, it is important to extend that to other areas of the business. Do not expect to be visited. Walk the floors and develop an internal network of key decision-makers.

All these elements involve proactively demonstrating the integral value of HR to the business in a visible fashion, aligning your approach to predict the needs of your internal customers and communicating in a language that they understand. These key steps will help you start your journey to becoming a business partner. However, it is crucial that they do not distract you from your operational responsibilities, which of course underpin all of the above.

Hugo Tucker, manager, OrtusHR

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