According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the term 'business partner' is used loosely to cover a range of jobs from administrative, through strategic, to consultancy. At its most strategic, an HR business partner works closely with other business leaders influencing strategy and steering its implementation, and making the best use of the organisation's people.
The role of the business partner is more important than ever, now that there are more demands on HR to add value. And more business managers are realising that by making better use of their people, they can make a real difference to the profitability of the business.
In addition, more of the transactional work is being outsourced, so HR is not only able to focus much more on the strategic side of the business, but is also being pushed to make a strategic contribution and come up with people strategies that clearly add value to bottom-line results. This is where the role of the HR business partner comes in.
The value of the HR business partner
It was management guru David Ulrich who coined the term 'HR business partner' in 1996. According to Ulrich, HR must assume more strategic roles within organisations so can implement programmes that support the goals of the business.
Of course, that is not to say operations should take a back seat - it is just as important to the success of the HR function as the strategic role. To use an analogy, if HR operations are the engine that keeps the car running smoothly, business partners are the satellite navigation system that helps to guide the vehicle and determine its direction, so that it reaches its destination by the best possible route.
But you can't just go from being traditional HR to HR business partner overnight. Being a good HR business partner requires completely different attitudes, beliefs and skills.
What makes a good HR business partner?
Understand the business as well as the senior management team. This means knowing the business in depth - not just the figures. You need to understand who makes the money and how. What are the business goals? And what levers need to be pulled to help the organisation achieve them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the business compared to the competition? Most imp