HRBP: A Guide to HR Business Partners

Nov 3, 2022 | HR Trends

Today, HR departments are cultivating distinct areas of specialization. As automation alleviates HR’s administrative burden, HR staff can focus on higher-level priorities. The HR business partner (HRBP) role has emerged from this context.

And it’s growing in popularity due to its ability to provide valuable guidance to leadership. 

Are HRBPs actually useful? Absolutely. Read on to learn their key job duties and the benefits of having an one in your organization.

Table of Contents

1. What Is an HRBP

2. The Main Responsibilities of an HRBP

3. Benefits of an HRBP

4. Tools Needed by an HRBP

5. How to Become an HRBP

6. How to Succeed as an HRBP

7. Building the Case for an HRBP

8. Successfully Adopting the Role

What Is an HRBP

What does it mean to be an HR business partner? And how is it different from other key HR roles?

Definition of an HRBP 

Think of the HRBP as a consultant with a distinct set of expertise.

In a nutshell, HR business partners work to align HR strategy with business strategy. To do this, they work closely with the organization’s senior leadership. They examine HR policies and processes, assessing whether they align with strategy. Then, they recommend changes as needed.

By translating business strategy into HR decisions, they help the company move toward its goals. 

Differences Between HRBPs and HR Managers

An HR manager oversees an HR department or a particular HR function. The manager holds administrative responsibilities within that role. 

Meanwhile, the HR business partner is not a supervisor. In other words, the HRBP does not manage a particular department or function. Further, the role does not involve administrative responsibilities. Rather, the HRBP focuses on consulting with various leaders and managers to ensure alignment. 

The Main Responsibilities of an HRBP

Diverse colleagues meeting with an HRBP
Credit: Fauxels/Pexels

What does an HRBP do? Here are some of the core duties of the role:

  • Meeting regularly with a range of managers to assess needs
  • Investigating complex employee relations concerns
  • Guiding HR on setting policies and processes
  • Providing managers with guidance on talent management
  • Evaluating and suggesting improvements for training programs
  • Reviewing and upgrading talent acquisition strategies
  • Collaboratively designing solutions with multiple stakeholders

Again, this role centres on advising leaders and managers in these areas. The HRBP does not directly execute strategy or manage personnel, notes Northeastern University.

HR business partners should work closely with executive leadership. “They think, speak and work as business leaders,” says Deloitte, describing the role. “Many have made the shift from working in the business to working on the business. They are recognized in the conference room as business leaders vs. HR generalists.”

Benefits of an HRBP

Increasingly, organizations are viewing HR as a core part of their strategy. The HRBP puts this mindset into practice.

They can provide vital guidance in the following areas:

  • Cultivating a hybrid workforce
  • Building healthy, inclusive cultures
  • Updating policies, roles, and processes
  • Enhancing performance management
  • Boosting employee satisfaction and engagement
  • Guiding organizations through change
  • Managing structural transformation
  • Improving the leadership pipeline

Perhaps most importantly, the HRBP stays connected to how employees feel—and translates that into programs, policies, and processes.

“The HR business partner has an embedded GPS that continually senses workplace and workforce trends, patterns, and sentiments,” writes Deloitte. “This constant flow of information is useful to anticipate workforce needs for better, faster, and more accurate business decisions and provide HR critical data when building and/or modifying HR solutions.”

The HRBP can help organizations, departments, and leaders answer pivotal questions like these:

  • How can we work most effectively?
  • How do roles need to shift? Do we need any new ones—in HR or other functions?
  • What skills and competencies do we need today?
  • What broader workforce patterns are at play—and how do they affect us?
  • What trends in engagement, productivity, and satisfaction are we seeing in our workplace?

By guiding organizations in addressing these high-level questions, an HRBP furthers organizational success. “Organizations that build high-performing HRBPs improve employee performance by up to 22%, employee retention by up to 24%, revenue by up to 7%, and profit by up to 9%,” writes Gartner.

Tools Needed by an HRBP

The following tools will assist in their most important work.

Data Analysis Software

An HRBP relies partly on metrics to make assessments. So, they need data analysis software to support this effort. Analytics and reporting software can help them quickly understand a broad range of issues. From tracking the ROI of initiatives to monitoring attrition, they aid in smart decision-making.

Performance Management Solutions

Performance management data can provide insights into engagement and productivity. When used in tandem with analytics and reporting software, it provides a clear picture of trends.

Employee Survey Tools

Taking regular pulse surveys will provide insights on various topics. They’ll give the HRBP a deeper understanding of workforce sentiments and trends. 

Preferably, a software solution will integrate the above components so they’ll seamlessly work together. For instance, Primalogik offers an analytics dashboard that automatically draws from performance management, appraisal, and pulse survey tools, among others.

How to Become an HRBP

What skills and education are needed to be an HRBP?

First, this is not an entry-level role. Rather, the HR business partner must already have a depth of experience in HR.
Further, they must have a well-rounded knowledge of HR. HRBPs typically must hold a bachelor’s

degree in human resources. Plus, they must have excellent communication skills since their role centres on communication. And they must be comfortable with high-level strategic thinking.

Gain Business Literacy

An HRBP needs a high level of business literacy to perform this function. They must fully understand the vision, mission, and goals set by leadership. Further, they must grasp how various departments support business goals. Plus, they must study the competition to understand what they’re offering employees.

Then they can assess how their company’s compensation, benefits, and employee experience measure up. 

Build Data Literacy

Using analytics will augment the role of an HRBP. So, they need to skillfully interpret data and draw conclusions from it. They must adeptly synthesize findings, taking advantage of the tools at their disposal. Then, they can use this data to make a case for change to leaders and managers. And they can measure the results of changes made.

Practice Networking

An HR business partner needs to be good at developing a strong rapport with managers. Additionally, the HRBP must develop positive relationships with employees. Having conversations with a range of people will help them understand organizational needs. And creating strong relationships will help them gain buy-in for their ideas.

Build a Rich Scope of HR Knowledge

HR managers and directors often make great HRBPs. Their wealth of experience in various aspects of HR, like these, primes them for the role:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Recruitment
  • Compliance 
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Succession planning
  • Employee development

They should, of course, be able to approach each topic with a strategic mindset.

Grow Leadership Skills

HRBPs need to effectively coach managers and leaders. Plus, they need to be comfortable setting a path forward that diverges from current practices. They should be confident in their opinions and able to lead at all levels.

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

HRBPs must have abundant emotional intelligence. They need to read the room well, keeping their pulse on how others are feeling. They should easily adapt their communication style to others’ needs, as Deloitte notes. This will allow them to effectively work with a wide range of stakeholders.

Let’s look at a few additional steps a new HR business partner can take to enhance effectiveness.

How to Succeed as an HRBP

What makes a great HRBP? Here are a few ways to become an incredible asset to your company. 

Building Strategic Relationships

HRBPs must understand the key points of influence they need to develop. They must fully understand the various management roles and who holds what decision-making power. Further, they must cultivate relationships with all of these roles and influence them in positive ways.

Being Assertive in the Role

HRBPs must be assertive, confidently voicing their opinions to leaders and managers. If they sit on the sidelines and voice their thoughts hesitantly, others won’t buy in. When they advocate for their own ideas persuasively, others will believe in them too.

Leading Through Change

Great HRBPs know how to lead others through change. In their role, they must often bring forth new ideas that may initially feel uncomfortable. They must understand why change can feel daunting. And they must have strategies for helping people move beyond fear of change. 

Taking these steps will make an HR business partner invaluable to their organization.

Building the Case for an HRBP

HRBP writing on glass board in front of colleagues
Credit: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

How can you convince your executive leadership team to create an HR business partner role?

Begin by conducting a needs assessment. To do this, talk with different managers and leaders. Ask them about their specific challenges and discuss how an HRBP might help solve them. Summarize your findings and present them to senior leadership.

Present clear examples of how the HRBP can solve key pain points. For instance, maybe HR hasn’t been fully aligned with organizational goals. State recent examples of such situations or those looming on the horizon.

Successfully Adopting the Role

We’d like to share a few final words of advice for introducing this new position:

  • Make sure your company doesn’t simply relabel an existing role as “HRBP.” Instead, design a completely new job description for the role. This needs to be a new, strategy-centred role, as Glenn Templeman says in The HR Business Partner Handbook. Too many companies simply give a long-term HR staff member the title without actually changing their role, he asserts.
  • Consider who might fill the position. Maybe you have someone on staff with a highly strategic mind. Or maybe you’re ready to expand your HR team. Share any input on the hiring decision with senior leadership.
  • Give the new HRBP training on how to act as a business advisor. This is particularly important if promoting someone internally who has never held the role. Making the switch from tactical to strategic HR work can be challenging.

By taking these steps, you’ll empower the HR business partner to follow a strategic approach.

Having an HRBP will allow HR to take more of a leadership role in your organization. You’ll utilize valuable HR expertise across the company. Likewise, you’ll bring a strategic, business-oriented mindset to talent management decisions. Everyone stands to benefit from the wealth of expertise and experience an HRBP brings.

Want to learn how the right tools can support an HR business partner‘s work? Sign up to demo our product!

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