The HR Business Partner model and the focus on transactional HR in 2015

Published: 9 April 2015

Over recent years, significant work has been done within large companies to increase the commercial acumen of HR Business Partners. Teams have been built that partner with leaders, understand the strategy of the business unit and use organisational design, development, performance and talent management to ensure it gets there.

This model is well understood and much debate has centred on whether a different structure could be more effective; but I’m not going to talk about that today, let’s work with what we have for a second.

The Ulrich Model relies on Centres of Excellence, HR Shared Services and HR Business Partners all performing and delivering effectively for it to work. In the beginning, the biggest criticism was that HR Business Partners were not strategic enough. In 2015, I am hearing something a little different…You might read reports to the contrary, but organisations I am speaking to seem to be quite happy with the HRBP’s. They understand the business, build good relationships, successfully deliver change and develop people. What is not working as well is the transactional HR - the basics being provided by the Shared Service Centre.

HR Shared Services have not always had the sexiest reputation; however it is a critical function for two reasons. Firstly, the average employee has most of their exposure to HR through the Shared Service. Basic queries arise frequently and the bulk of employee interaction with HR comes at this time. It is therefore critical that this service is delivered quickly and accurately, building the credibility of HR as a function.

Technology has enabled a lot of self-service within a business and then Advisory teams respond to tier 1 and 2 queries before escalation is required. The problems arise when this service is not delivered effectively. If the intranet, HRIS and people in the shared services do not provide a quality service, the next thing that happens is people stop using it and try and speak to their HR Business Partner instead. This brings me to point two; the HR Shared Service is critical in freeing up the HRBP’s time to work strategically.

At the moment, I am hearing a lot about organisations that have built capability amongst their HR Business Partners, only to see them dragged into transactional and operational issues due to the Shared Service not delivering. Business Partnering and Talent are often the target roles for people progressing in their HR careers and the crucial function of HR operations does not always attract the necessary level of ‘talent’. It is a tough skillset requiring someone who has a customer-focused mindset with high attention to detail.

Change is everywhere. The competency most sought after in 2015 is the ability to deal with ambiguity in a fast-changing world. In order for an HR function to be able to respond to this, it must be underpinned by a strong HR Operations function and this is already a major area of focus for many businesses in the FTSE100.

Tim Baker is a specialist recruiter within the HR practice at Berwick Partners

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