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HRBP: What does a Human Resources Business Partner Do?

What is Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP)?

For most people, Human Resources is a business line that is faced with when in trouble, or something unpleasant happens with the corporation. What Human Resources Business Partner does is the topic of this piece of writing.

Bad HR thinks of the employee only in the processes of “hiring” and “firing”. The main work for good HR begins when the employee is hired and continues with making sure that the employee is happy, productive, healthy and in accord with his environment.  This effort does not happen only by coming face to face with the employee; usually the good HR is an invisible and balancing force working through volume managers.

I thought of consulting an authority in these matters, and thus came about the idea of interviewing Hilal Can Akkor who works as Change Manager & HR Business Partner in Nestlé. I thank her again for not turning me down and for answering my questions. You can see the parts I have personally found very important and underlined in the answers.

What is Human Resources Business Partner, really? There is “Business Partner” in it. Is it some kind of a business partner, if not, what is it a partner to?

HR has been through a lot of changes within the last 15-20 years, and is still continuing changing. Tough economic/political and uncertain conditions in the world now push managers to view human resources in a different light. For example, people who wanted to work used to be happy to get a job. They would work until retirement in the same work place and sometimes in the same position. But today, with the increment of qualified roles, qualified workers started to find jobs much more easily.

This fact created a “commitment” to gaining new experiences rather than commitment to corporation in employees. Together with this, the coming about of the competence for managing difficult situations started to take more time, because business environment and the world is changing very quickly…

Precisely with the creation of these complicated situations that Human Resources were forced to evolve.

A need for roles like Human Resources Business Partner who are closer to “Business” and know business started to emerge. A need emerged in mind for a “partner” who will spare time and create good applications for questions such as: Why are our employees leaving, how do we increase employee engagement and loyalty? How do we improve their competencies faster? How can we foresee their future competencies?..

HR people who can propose suitable solutions to every business decision are growing. From this point of view, it began to gain importance that an expert who can calculate the effect of a decision on people contributes to the decision-making process in business. Businesspeople used to make decisions solely based on the business results they want to reach, without a human resources expert in the room. Upon realizing the effects of these decisions on the commitment of employees, businesspeople looked/are looking for a HR “Business Partner” to be by their side when making decisions. In fact, our job is both to calculate the effects of the decisions made on people and to direct the decisions accordingly before they are made so that they bring positive results on the long term; and to propose HR solutions, applications and policies that are suitable with these.

What I am wondering the most is what differentiates an average HRBP and a distinguished person who is great at the job? What differences do you see in terms of temperament, business discipline and knowledge accumulation?

First of all, I am curious about these as well… As I myself am in this business, my answer will have the possibility of being biased…

An average Human Resources Business Partner:
  • efficiently does the execution of HR processes (performance and talent management, hiring, training processes) according to corporation principles; business models, rules and business legislation,
  • having his consultant hat on, communicates what should and should not be done,
  • has sharp black and white areas and
  • gives trainings to improve the managers and
  • builds relationships and gives advice more with the mentor hat on.
  • has a good HR accumulation yet does not want to take the bull by the horns; the bull being the business results or operations of the corporation.

Yet a distinguished HRBP is first of all is invited to weekly meetings because the insight she or he will present regarding the employees and how to build future competencies increase the quality of the decisions that will be made. She produces HR solutions for the business line by minding the trends in HR and in competencies, and by calculating where future economic needs might take the corporation and employee behaviour. Trying to change perspective, she produces permanent and inspiring leadership behaviours for managing Line Managers’ troubles with HR – not with the mentor/consultant hat but with the coaching hat on. She creates strategies for bringing every Line Manager to the knowledge and competence level of a HR Manager.

Because s/he comprehends the purpose and reason for the existence of the corporation, s/he works to bring commercial and employee profits into a balanced win-win situation by being able to have a commercial view on long-term plans. Periods of change have become a part of everyday in the contemporary word, which pushes here to create convincing strategies and carry change into effect through managers.

We all see that Human Resources industry is going through a change lately; how has this change changed HRBPs’ way of making business?

The change is continuing, so I can see corporations handling the role of HRBP in a slightly different way every year. This role is definitely becoming one that puts strategic decisions into action, listens more to intermediate and top management, sees business outcomes, takes immediate action and changes processes, so in short changes the course of events rather than one that manages daily operations.

This brings up the question how a Human Resources Business Partner should spend a day. It turns into a role that hires less (centres of expertise do this now); deal less with daily employee problems (centre of expertise does employee relations); goes more to function meetings such as sales, marketing, finance and supply chain; has a control over numbers; takes quick action according to the course of numbers; produces solutions (for example: competence development, providing integration to new jobs, coaching the managers in producing correct behaviour due to their high effect on culture, changing people’s roles according to their talents, changing responsibilities etc.) and provides insight.

All employees (I mean, employees who are not managers) would say they don’t see their HRBP at all… but in the ideal world, their HRBP is actually their managers so that we can follow and produce relevant solutions as to the “B” of Business course in HRBP. And to be able to produce, one needs to spend time with business and know which points they find difficult.

As I know from my experience with this title, it needs to be in contact with many departments and people. What should one do to manage this well?

Correct, it is in contact with many people both in HR and business, which is the hardest part… There’s usually no one who is committed to the HRBP role; but for an HRBP to work efficiently, people in the Centre of Expertise and the Service Centre need to view HRBP as a compass. It should be a HR face “from the outside” (the side that manages the costumer). Unfortunately, many corporations haven’t settled this side. Enthusiasts of the Centre of Expertise might tend to see HRBP as an execution wing. When this is the case, it naturally becomes more difficult for HRBP to offer special solutions to the business. Thus develops debatable relationship models.

It is important to remember that future Human Resources Business Partner might be working at CoEs and Service Centres. So there are situations at times that I solve through including them in the work being done, getting them to be in need-analysis meetings and to feel the “warmth”. Sometimes, approaching the situation through coaching is also a solution. What never works is trying to take action without understanding the matter or trying to execute “solutions” that are previously thought by Human Resources Business Partner (laughs)… I think it is essential to this job that HRBP keeps up the persuasiveness that it shows outside within the HR function.

I once heard that a HR that works very well destroys the need for itself at some point. What does it make you think? Do you agree?

I totally agree. Corporations start living up to their true potential if every manager can think like a Human Resources Manager. Now you’re going to ask what HRBP will do! In a world like that, it is a matter of time for a distinguished HRBP to cross to the business side; however, I can see that a HRBP that manages operations is bound to fall out of work…

To what extend should a good business line manager show interest in “HR business”? What percentage of the work of a manager who does crew management is HR?

If a business line manager does not deal with HR issues, he becomes a “duty” settler/check list performer. This makes him an “expert who does work” rather than a leader. It wouldn’t even be correct to call him a “manager” if he does not deal with HR issues. But this matter of “Will I do the HR work?” is a very common one in Turkey. Short answer: “Yes, because the person is dependent on you, you see him and receive work from him. Improving him in real time and enabling him to be better is an important part of the work. There is no more time in this fast world to wait and let others do the work.

I am now going to state the ideal in my head although I don’t have the data to support it. This is just a matter I have observed. The time spared by the managers I have viewed as “good” over the years is 50% for intermediate managers and 70% for top managers. I’m talking about intermediate and top managers because these roles bring the responsibility of affecting and coaching at every level. This time is necessary as coaching for inspiring and prompting the employee is a time-consuming meeting style. At the same time, “getting” full performance from the employee is possible through convincing, feedback and appreciation, which is a managing style that can take a lot of time.

What are the musts of this work? I mean, what should the people intending to do this make sure to have as their qualities? As far as I know, relationship management is important; but beyond this what other invisible skills are necessary?

In my reality, relationship management is truly the 70% of this work. Apart from that; persuasiveness, ability to negotiate (for process, money, time), strategic thinking and tactic identification, ability to facilitate, taking on the responsibility of business outcomes and understanding numbers, listening very well, empathy, coaching skills, being able to say “no” to the management board that is higher above in the schema of corporation organization, being able to challenge intermediate and top managers, enabling a view different from what is needed, durability against stress, being stubborn (!) – better be balanced – and intuition… Intuition must be our strong side that we can use at ease and easily in this business. Inspiring leadership skills are essential…

I read somewhere “HR with attitude”. Human Resources Business Partner has to have a stand of its own and charisma so that it can build authority.

These are the things I can think of for now.

What would be the two most important pieces of advice you would give to people either working in another position in HR right now and aim at HRBP for the next step or those who are completely new to this area?

Our biggest mistake might be talking to people from the point of view of “I know HR”. This is unfortunately a situation that affects respectability and obedience negatively. All the capabilities I have counted above is nothing without respectability and obedience.

So my advice is first to follow all kinds of trend/news/politic and economic situation and second not to be afraid of listening to and feeling business, reading the organization and using intuition, to bring the rightest solution with business.

Can you recommend a few resources that will inspire people interested in this area and that has inspired you (talk, video, book, film, presentation, people’s names…)?

I gained a lot from Dave Ulrich, being the father or the Human Resources Business Partner model. I followed all his resources and read his books.  Apart from him, Ralph Chrsitensen’s Road to Strategic HR, John H. Gleming and Jim Asplund’s Human Sigma and Jac Fitz-Enz’s ROI of Human Capital will be good books for starters of the HRBP role.

Thank you very much!

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