Building Relationships with HR Business Partners

Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012

I have been closely involved many times in change management consulting for HR Transformation, most recently at Coca-Cola, particularly where shared services and specialist HR roles are created out of a generalist model. In speaking to people in the industry I have been asked for my advice about developing robust partnerships with HR Business Partners as the new ways of working evolve for HR and so here are some of my personal thoughts...

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Where your organization operates a derivative of the Dave Ulrich model of HR – the classic "Triangle Model" of Shared Services, Centers of Expertise and Strategic HR Business Partners – the key to being an HR function which adds value to the business is first of all to ensure you walk and talk and deliver as "One Team HR".

The true HR Business Partner will be more than a pair of hands to the business, and will work alongside the business managers as an integral member of the management team. Equally the innovative products and services and core policy designed by the Centers of Expertise, together with the transactional excellence in the delivery of core processes and regular advice derived from the Shared Services team, enable the HR business partner to be "freed- up" to operate in the strategic and high level operational space required for the business.

So in this context the independence yet at the same time interdependency between the three HR roles is absolutely crucial to maintain credibility for the HR function, and it is clear from experience that HR Business Partners can be either a gatekeeper or dealmaker, a champion or a silent assassin of HR Shared Services, given that they have the closest day to day relationship with the business.

I have seen, and been in companies where the HR Business Partner is a title but not yet a modus operandii. The HR generalists wearing the hat of HR Business Partners are often like the pillion passenger hanging on for dear life as the business manager drives their Harley Davidson fast for change or just the thrill of speed and a new direction. I’ve also seen cases where the HR Generalist would rather hold on to the transactional work they used to do, managing administrative processes, or at the other extreme designing new policy for their corner of the business without regard for global consistency or context. So they are not yet "letting go" of the work that should be the focus of HR Shared Services or the new Centers of Expertise. Equally they have heavy workloads and cannot, or prefer not to free themselves up for the Business Partnering work – which is high profile, a bit scary perhaps, and certainly a challenge and a stretch beyond the old HR Generalist comfort zone.

In addition, we have all witnessed situations where the HR Business Partner is willing to move into their new role but hasn’t been trained to do so. For example when I was an HR Business Partner back in the mid 90s I didn’t fully get it until I was given contracting and consulting skills training after about 9 months in the role.

Given the above range of guises that the HR Business Partner appears in and given their important interface position with the business, the real win-win is for Shared Services and HR Business Partners to work together. They should operate alongside the COE, be on the same page in word and deed, support and stand up for each other, not hide behind the fact that they personally are not to blame when things go wrong. As they will from time to time.

A few tips for Shared Services people who are at the forming and norming stage of their relationship with the HR Business Partner are (and the same tips are offered here for HRBPs and Centers of Expertise!!!)

  • Be clear about each other’s roles –where they differ and where they rely on each other.
  • Exchange wants and offers with each other, an informal partnership agreement.
  • Agree who is responsible, accountable, informed and consulted and where and when about what.
  • Give each other a tour of duty, a day in the life of the other role to help each other get to feel what it is like in that terrain, to get connected. This can only be done by actually spending time at the location , in the working environment ,of the other person
  • Last but not least –trust each other and help each other to climb the staircase to the new way of working. Some of the steps are high, some slippery, but it is well worth the climb supporting each other along the way.

About the Author
Simon Brown has over 25 years experience in HR Management working in the change management, talent acquisition and talent management space, with a range of FMCG, B2B and Pharmaceuticals sector organisations including Duracell Batteries, GlaxoSmithKline, Premier Farnell and has successfully completed a 3 year change management assignment at Coca-Cola.

Simon has recently left Coca-Cola to launch his own consulting business, specialising in shared services design and selection, virtual working, coaching and mentoring. He has been involved in the design and deployment of Shared Services four times since 1995, including vendor selection for outsourced partners. Simon has a strong expertise in selection and development of HR Shared Services teams and has worked with both onshore captives, off-shore, outsourced, and virtual working teams where a blended solution of retained and outsourced has been chosen. Based on his own learning Simon advises companies to choose carefully the right HRO mix for them relevant to their business profile and current situation along the HR transformation journey.

Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012


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