Where are all the business partners?

When you reflect on how your HR director spends the biggest proportion of
their work time, do you come to the conclusion that they are trying to address
the biggest strategic questions facing the organisation?

If the answer is yes, you can take comfort in the fact that efforts are
being made to move HR into the 21st century. If the answer is no, you should be
querying the value your department brings to the business and worrying about
its future.

HR’s destiny is all about becoming an effective business partner and player.
It is about being proactive in a strategic advisory role – getting involved in
the business plan and understanding the strategy, market, products and
commercial challenges the company faces.

A skilful HR business partner will head up the organisational design and
bring it in line with the strategy. They will get the CEO on side, with the
right structures and cultures that need developing and underpin it all with
appropriate policies and practices. They know what makes competitors and
customers tick and they are adept at ensuring HR leads, influences and makes a
significant difference in all these areas.

Future HR relationships will not be founded on just reacting to day-to-day
operational needs, but will concentrate on broader connections and
collaboration with business leaders, finance directors, marketeers and external

This generation of HR directors have had to be self-sufficient and have
learnt on the job about delivering a holistic contribution to the business.
Some have acquired skills through tough experiences and are great role models,
more by luck than planning.

Yet they are in the minority, and it is widely accepted that HR business
partners are few and far between.

Training initiatives like that launched by the Institute for Employment
Studies (IES) this week (page 1) go a long way to preparing HR managers and
directors for this arena. But more schemes are needed with wider access, and
there should be a higher profile for HR professionals who epitomise business
partner status.

E-HR is forcing the profession to change its spots at a frightening pace and
there are obvious risks and choices to make going forward. HR can either become
a sub-set of IT, be wiped out altogether in some organisations, or take the
business partner route and strengthen its place in the business.

Geoff Armstrong, director-general of the CIPD, once called for HR to be
bolder and more assertive in engaging with the business strategy. The IES
scheme looks like a great move in helping HR achieve this.

By Jane King, Editor

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