How Human Resources Can Become a Strategic Business Partner

How Human Resources Can Become a Strategic Business Partner

Developing strategic business partnerships can help a company increase revenues and improve its market position. A 2019 Forrester study found that for more than 50% of businesses, over 20% of revenues result from beneficial collaborations.

Infographic Strategic Business Partner 1

A human resources business partner (or HRBP) can also be key to a successful growth strategy. This high-level HR professional works with corporate leaders to design a human resources program that aligns with your business objectives. The HRBP is the bridge between the company and its human resources functions.

This article explores the role of HR as a strategic business partner. But first, let’s try to understand what strategic business partnerships really mean.

What are strategic business partnerships?

In a growing company, the leadership team may wish to capitalize on a new technology or broaden the company’s expertise in a specific area. Or, company leaders might see the advantages of expanding into new markets or embracing other emerging opportunities. However, the business may not currently have the financial and/or human capital to execute this plan.

In this case, a strategic business partnership may be the answer. A strategic business partnership is a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship that brings value to both parties. Business partnerships that create the most value for both parties are considered to be the most strategic collaborations.

In September 2019, for example, mega-retailer Amazon partnered with approximately 30 global technology companies. These international businesses banded together to protect their collective customer bases.

Infographic Strategic Business Partner 2

To give you another example, Uber riders can listen to their favorite playlists while en route to their destinations. Courtesy of music-streaming company Spotify, this added perk helps Uber to stand out in a very competitive marketplace.

The human resources business partner role

A human resources business partner (or HR business partner) is a highly experienced human resources professional who consistently liaises with a company’s senior leaders. Working in an advisory capacity, these HR professionals design the organization’s HR functions to support their business goals and objectives. 

From this perspective, the HR business partner is performing a strategic HR role.

The HR business partner primarily interacts with C-suite business leaders or the firm’s board of directors. This strategy-focused professional also serves as a bridge between the company’s leadership team and the HR manager. 

An increasing number of companies are now partnering with an HR business partner. This increases the role’s importance in the corporate arena.

Functions of HR as a strategic business partner

A company’s HR business partner ensures that the organization’s human resources policies and procedures align with the company’s goals. This approach necessitates a strong strategic HR focus.

As might be expected, the business partner leaves the routine HR department functions in the hands of company managers. These HR leaders oversee activities such as onboarding new hires along with employee relations and retention. Managers and their team members also address other human capital business challenges.

Common HR business partner functions

Companies often vary in their structural and operational parameters. With that being said, an HR business partner role might include the performance of five similar functions in different types of businesses.

1. Organizational structure analysis

A highly effective HRBP clearly understands the organization’s structure. They are also well versed in the operations and practices that will most improve the company’s bottom line. Further, the HRBP plays a key role in implementing these practices.

2. Change management execution

Companies must consistently deal with change that arises from internal and external sources. Internal factors include management turnover and generational differences among workers. External factors include technological advancements and economic disruptions to the company’s industry.

A skilled HR business partner maintains a flexible mindset. This constructive outlook enables them to adapt to changes and helps the company formulate effective change management strategies.

3. Marketing outreach activities

An HRBP with marketing acumen can turn employees into brand ambassadors. When employees communicate their positive company experiences to others, potential hires may be more receptive to recruitment efforts.

4. Cultural congruity assurance

A company’s culture is reflected in every aspect of its operations. The HR business partner ensures that the company’s actions always align with its underlying culture.

5. Acquisition-related collaborations

The role of human capital is an often-overlooked aspect of a business acquisition. Let’s assume that a company is acquiring another business. The acquiring company’s HR business partner will perform two important (and related) functions during the acquisition process.

The acquiring company’s HR business partner will display complete familiarity with the firm’s HR operations and challenges. Sharing their insights with decision-making executives provides corporate leaders with the input they need to formulate business strategy.

The acquiring company also inherits the acquired company’s talents and capabilities (or human capital). Building a relationship between both HR teams will make the HR departmental audit a more streamlined process.

The HR business partner vs the HR manager

An HR business partner and an HR manager perform considerably different functions. The HR business partner works mostly with the company’s senior executives, helping to develop HR strategies that apply to the entire organization.

On occasion, the HRBP may work with internal HR teams to resolve specific issues. However, this professional consultant doesn’t perform any administrative tasks within the HR department.

In contrast, the HR manager maintains administrative oversight of the HR department and its HR people. In addition to enforcing company policies and procedures, this HR professional is responsible for recruiting and hiring along with overall system administration.

How to become an effective HR business partner

As with any professional occupation, the right mindset and training regimen can position one to become a highly effective HR business partner. First, candidates should ensure that they understand a company’s goals and operations thoroughly. They should also obtain clarity on associated company performance metrics.

Aspiring HR business partners should learn about the specific industry by reading up on Forbes and other similar websites. To complement their research, candidates should immerse themselves in understanding the company’s business unit functions. 

In addition, viewing LinkedIn profiles of top executives will provide insights into their backgrounds and competencies. Finally, mastering the art of listening enables a deeper understanding of the company’s culture, operations, and employees.

The HR business partner should also maintain a focus on excellence throughout every aspect of the company’s operations. To that end, this HR professional should consistently support worthwhile internal projects that align with the organization’s goals.

Cultivate these 6 essential skills

Regardless of the industry or the business type, an HR business partner should possess these six foundational skills. Note that these skills aren’t quantifiable by nature. However, they’re important attributes that together provide a solid foundation for a career as an HRBP.

1. Human resources knowledge

A highly skilled human resource professional should possess well-rounded knowledge of HR programs and functions. This understanding is essential to integrating organizational operations with HR activities. This high-level HR functionality also enables the HRBP to provide well-informed advice to the company’s CEO and top executives.

2. Business operations acumen

Besides understanding company operations basics, the HR business partner should have proven business acumen regarding the company’s competitive marketplace. The HRBP should be knowledgeable about competitor product offerings, market share, and applicable technologies. In a related concept, the HRBP should thoroughly understand the interplay between business opportunity and business risk.

3. Strategic thinking focus

A strategic-thinking HR business partner should be able to maintain a big-picture focus on the organization’s goals. The HRBP should keep each business goal in mind while also considering the factors that can potentially prevent the goal’s achievement. Then, it’s easier to formulate a targeted solution that aligns with the company’s strategic plan.

4. Analytical capabilities

In the 21st century, HR business partners must be prepared to address complex questions that often require data analysis and interpretation. Further, the HRBP should be able to develop and test multiple hypotheses and design customized solutions to wide-ranging problems.

5. Stakeholder collaboration

An accomplished HR business partner must be able to successfully communicate and collaborate with diverse corporate stakeholders. An HRBP skilled in this practice will consistently maintain cordial relationships with C-suite executives who can influence the adoption of varied HR initiatives.

6. Coaching skills

On any given day, an HR business partner may engage in strategic discussions and organizational meetings. They might also provide executives with strategic coaching and provide new hires with career planning assistance. Or, they might simply listen to an employee who’s undergoing a difficult time.

To successfully navigate these challenges, an effective HRBP must safeguard sensitive information and earn people’s trust. A sense of empathy and the ability to tackle difficult topics are essential to this multifaceted position.

Final Thoughts

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When choosing an HR strategic business partner, a company should evaluate each candidate’s mastery of the skills mentioned above. 

Ideally, the HR business partner should also demonstrate specific industry knowledge and alignment with the organization’s goals. The company’s CEO and executives should then select the candidate that is most likely to help the organization move forward.

Just as human resources can be a crucial strategic business partner, so can your payment services provider. The right provider can help you maximize your profits and manage your finances effectively so that you can cut costs and use the surplus to reinvest in your business. 

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