Excellence in HR Business Partnership

A pie chart of nine roles for the HR business partner.

“The HRBP is a broad role. It’s a whirlwind adventure every working day!”

For Human Resources Business Partners (HRBPs), it’s a big ask: how to support client leaders, managers, and employees in their organization, solve every day operational HR and organizational-related challenges while simultaneously working on long-term, strategic objectives.

“HR Business Partners are responsible for implementing company-wide HR processes, assessing and advising on organizational needs, and, overall, helping to improve organizational and people effectiveness,” says HR consultant Linda Gunther. “As a high-performing HRBP, you’re continually partnering with leaders and with employees of all levels to make a positive impact on the business, and in addition, enhance the company culture.”

Gunther, a former leader in HR and Training and Development for Philips Semiconductors, NXP, Cadence Design Systems, Dionex and Sun Microsystems, has been hiring HR business partners for much of her career. As the role and the industry have evolved, she’s found that it’s not always been an easy position to fill.

The Best-In-Class HRBP

“I have noticed some candidates may be missing the most important skills,” she says, noting in particular, certain skills such as facilitation, negotiation, innovation, and the ability to energize managers and employees—all skills that HRBPs need to interact successfully on a day-to-day basis with their client groups. The best-in-class HRBP develops ideas, advises, influences, promotes, energizes, negotiates and champions initiatives.

“The HRBP is a broad role. It’s a whirlwind adventure every working day!” Gunther says. “We’re responsible for being a reputable coach as well as partnering with our client leaders to achieve goals that affect the people and the business. We need to communicate and translate what’s important for employees and managers to know. We need to be able to distill information coming from HR and business leaders across the organization and geographies and not just spit out the information to the client group.”

Developing HR Business Partner Circle of Excellence

About five years ago, Gunther began outlining the most critical roles and skills needed for today’s HRBP. She interviewed HR leaders as well as client executives and managers who work with HR business partners, asking them two questions:

  1. What do you look for when hiring an HRBP?
  2. What specific attributes, competencies and skillsets are you hoping to find in HRBP candidates who will potentially work well with your teams, your business leaders and with the company as a whole?

The project grew into a new model: the HR Business Partner Circle of Excellence, which highlights three distinct areas of expertise: Develops Ideas, Advises/Influences, and Promotes. Within each of these areas are three specific roles.

HR Business Partner Circle of Excellence

  • Develops Ideas
    • Innovator
    • Problem-Solver
    • Facilitator
  • Advises/Influences
    • Negotiator
    • Coach/Partner
    • Organizational Assessor
  • Promotes
    • Communicator/Translator
    • Energizer
    • Attractor (internally and externally)

Do people in other HR functions need to have the same skills as the HRBP?

“Some of them, yes, but you can see how important it is for HRBPs to have expertise in facilitation, communication, negotiation, influencing, advising, and coaching,” Gunther says. “Relationship-building skills are also critical when working with managers and individual contributors of every level.”

The Need for HR Data, Analytics, & Business Tools

“Using data and analytics in every area of what they do and giving robust and specific detailed metrics will give HR Business Partners an edge in having an even higher impact,” Gunther emphasizes.

She notes the need for continuous improvement tools and techniques in the HRBP’s toolbox, including root cause analysis, force-field analysis, return on investment (ROI), strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT), Start, Stop, Keep, and cost/benefit analysis knowledge.

“Don’t be afraid of these tools; leverage them,” Gunther says. “All of these great tools for facilitating deep team problem-solving make a big difference in determining whether an HRBP is good or is great.

HR Business Partner Excellence: 9 Roles for Effectiveness

Gunther, who covers this topic in depth in Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) Excellence—for UCSC Silicon Valley Extension students— will be presenting a condensed, hour-long presentation Wednesday, June 19HR Business Partner Excellence: 9 Roles for Effectiveness. The hour-long, on-campus presentation, sponsored by the NCHRA, is created for HR professionals and people new to the field. (Registration is required.)

She will give an overview of how HRBPs can be both strategic and operational for high impact. “That means working on short-term operational client and company needs, while also working closely with client leaders on longer-term strategic issues, anticipating organizational and environmental changes affecting the business and people.

“The shortened presentation will be jam-packed with skills and suggestions about how to be a more effective as an HRBP,” Gunther says.

“How do you use problem solving and decision-making skills?” If you have those facilitation tools, you can be a “golden resource” to your client groups, she says. “It’s amazing how valuable you can be in your role as HR business partner.”

1 Comment

  1. Indeed, HR business partners need to be operating at a higher level of communication, facilitation, and negotiation than technical HR specialists. The trick is ensuring that HR is set up in such a way (and that the rest of the organization understands) that HRBPs aren’t being dragged into operational HR tasks that should be handled by other HR specialists. This depends on how the organisation has structured the HR function, and on the skillset of the HRBPs and HR admins in question.

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