What makes a true strategic HR Business Partner?

What makes a true strategic HR Business Partner?
Published: 31 January 2019

When recruiting for HR Business Partners, and going through their list of requirements, many clients will ask for someone who is “truly strategic”. Although on the surface this is simple enough to understand, I thought it was worth exploring what this actually means for both candidates and recruiters.

The HR business partnering model was developed by Professor David Ullrich. Today this is the default approach to structuring an HR function, especially amongst larger organisations. The HR Business Partner’s role is to work closely with internal stakeholders to develop a people agenda that aligns to, and supports, the overall strategic objectives of the organisation. Their individual goal, most importantly, is to become credible with everyone internally; someone whose opinions are asked for, listened to and respected.

In essence, successful HR Business Partners need to truly understand all aspects of the business.  They must know their organisation’s strategy and needs, and be able to determine the skills and individuals that are required to deliver these strategies. HR Business Partners should be continuously thinking about talent and succession planning, and working regularly with senior management to ensure their organisation has a pipeline of future leaders. They need to be managing their high potentials, as well as understanding and being able to find the new talent their organisation needs. This all equates to being able to design an organisation, for the long term, that will end up delivering results for the business.

In order to achieve the above, an effective HR Business Partner must be able to act as a change agent. As everyone knows, “change is the only thing that is constant”. The HR Business Partner needs to anticipate, help to design, and then shape organisational change.

The term HR Business Partner can be widely used for candidates with salaries ranging from £40,000 to nearly £200,000 and not all of them will actually be in “strategic business partnering” roles. At Berwick Partners, when we interview HR candidates for a client, we will focus on if and how people have gained the aforementioned experience. Thus candidates need to demonstrate that they have a trusted advisor relationship, are involved in all aspects of talent management and development, and understand the business they work for.

For people who feel that they are stuck in a more operational HR role and want to progress, as a starting point I would suggest stop waiting for the business to come to you with simple questions around holidays or pay. Instead, be proactive and go to the business with new thoughts and perspectives. Although this can be a difficult step to take, if you are confident in both your understanding and ideas, you will earn that respect and you will notice questions will start to be asked that are not simply around transactional HR policies.

To summarise, organisations are not looking for a “strategic HR Business Partner” who will simply recite the group’s HR policy back to them. Instead, they want someone who will work with them on solving problems and finding solutions, in order to drive the business forward.

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