Workforce Management

The Role and Responsibilities of a Human Resources Business Partner

Human resources employees shaking the hand of a prospective new employee.

Often, once a strategic plan has been created by executives, it fails to be put into place. Having HR step in can be a huge help, because they know so much about every aspect of the business, including people. However, CEOs are just now starting to realize the potential of human resources professionals as business partners.

What Is a Human Resources Business Partner?

An HR business partner (HRBP) is a professional who has a lot of experience in the HR field and works closely with those high up in the company to support organizational goals. The HRBP is responsible for aligning business objectives with management and employees and is the link between HR and the business. They advise and support managers on strategic issues and help them implement high-performing, integrated human resources practices.

HRBPs tend to work more with the board of directors or C-suite rather than the human resources department. Having a role for an experienced HR professional, like an HRBP, can often get confused with the position of an HR manager. So, what’s the difference?

How Is an HRBP Different From an HR Manager?

While they are both members of the human resources team and have a wealth of knowledge in the HR profession, their jobs are quite different. Being in a management position, an HR manager has people working for them and is responsible for enforcing policies and procedures within the organization.

The HRBP does not have any administrative duties (ideally). They are responsible for guiding and communicating company strategy. They also collaborate with human resources on issues and initiatives and may help develop strategies to address issues.

What Are an HRBP’s Primary Functions Within an Organization?

The main purpose of an HR business partner is to use HR capabilities to accomplish company-wide goals, so the duties and responsibilities of an HRBP may vary depending on those goals.

An HRBP supports business managers by aligning HR activities with organizational strategy. They help solve business issues through the people side of the business.

A few key areas HRBPs should become well-versed in include:

  1. Change management: Accelerating change in order to meet business imperatives.
  2. Organization engineering: Understanding how organizations work and best practices for success.
  3. Culture management: Driving the culture and ensuring everything the company does aligns with its culture.
  4. Inclusion: Fighting for every employee, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc.
  5. Marketing: Leveraging employees as brand ambassadors and a powerful source for recruiting.

Critical skills someone could develop to excel as a human resources business partner are:

Business Acumen

This involves a strong understanding of the business functions and priorities, and centers around the understanding of and dealing with business risk or opportunity. An HRBP should know their business’ competitive advantage, competitors and their product(s), technology, and market share.

Strategic Leadership

All the required competencies to be an HRBP include thinking about big picture changes for the organization and how to tactically achieve them. Effective strategic aptitude assessments are critical to success in the role.

HR Understanding

An HRBP should have a deep understanding of HR processes and activities. This is a basic requirement to provide the business with advice and to implement plans. They should be able to connect business challenges to HR activities and outcomes.

Analytical Skills

As someone who is responsible for analyzing and creating plans to meet goals, it would only make sense that the HRBP needs to be able to use dashboards and reporting to analyze data and provide insight and takeaways from that data.

Stakeholder Management

An HRBP promotes HR initiatives to the C-suite within an organization, so they need to possess excellent stakeholder management. Stakeholder management is the process of maintaining good relationships with the people who have the most impact in the workplace. Communication and collaboration with these individuals is a vital part of getting them “on board” with a strategic initiative.

Administrative vs. Strategic HR Focus

There’s a lot of talk about how to move from administrative HR to strategic HR, but what many may not realize is that you want a little of each. Earlier we stated that HR business partners ideally don’t have administrative duties, but depending on the size of your organization, an HRBP may have to step into some administrative duties from time to time. However, some organizations may be lucky enough to have a large team of people where an HR professional can truly transition into a completely strategic position while others are performing the day-to-day duties.

Administrative HR focuses on employee relations, benefits, hiring, pay, risk management, and technology, which are most likely the areas where your HR team spends their time. These are generally the day-to-day operations of HR, and a company can’t survive without a team taking care of these procedures.

However, the HRBP needs to be a little more strategic. The success of your HR department will depend on your HRBP’s ability to balance administrative HR efficiently and effectively with strategic HR.

The core of strategic HR is aligning HR functions with the business. The alignment process includes thinking about the business as it relates to recruitment and retention, learning and development, engagement, and performance management.

For example, at BizLibrary one of the goals of our learning and development function is to promote the core values and mission of our business to all team members.   

Building Strategic Relationships as an HRBP

A strategic relationship requires actively seeking out and building a bond with someone. Strategic relationships are give and take relationships where each person has something to offer the other. An HRBP’s strategic relationships will contribute to the interdepartmentalism between executives and the HR department, filling in gaps to keep employees satisfied and on track to meet the company’s goals.

Here are a few tips for developing strategic relationships:

  • Knowing the end goal. Current or aspiring HRBPs should think about what they want to accomplish and what the timeline looks like for those goals. Their goals may include developing relationships that will help with a career move, or making changes in the organization, helping to improve the lives of their employees, etc.
  • Identifying relationships. An HRBP needs to be realistic about how many people they can invest in at a time and really invest in those people. More relationships aren’t always better. HRBPs should be selective and focus on the relationships they are building for a purpose.
  • Identifying individuals. Who are the possible individuals who might help in reference to an HRBP’s goals? What type of person should they connect with and what should they be able to offer?
  • Doing some homework. An aspiring HRBP should research the people on the list of possible relationships. What are their backgrounds? Check LinkedIn and bios on the company website. An overload of details is unnecessary, just enough info to gather an impression.
  • Determine what each person in the relationship has to offer. Think of strategic relationships as a benefit bank account. Every time an HRBP does someone a favor, they make a deposit. Every time someone helps the HRBP, that’s a withdrawal. In starting up a relationship, they don’t want to start with an account in “debt.” Some relationship capital should be accumulated first by helping out the other person in the relationship.
  • Reach out and build the relationship. After an HRBP has identified individuals for strategic relationships, done their homework, and determined what each person has to offer one another, they can reach out and start to build those strategic relationships.

Human Resources at a High Level: How to Get Leadership Buy-in

HRBPs are strategic business partners involved in the success of organizations, and not just hiring, firing, and traditional HR roles.

If senior leaders need to be convinced of the value of having an HRBP role, presenting solid, measurable metrics is key to demonstrating how strategic HR initiatives can impact a company’s bottom line.

Some examples of strategic HR metrics are monthly turnover rate, revenue per employee, human capital cost, promotion rate, employee satisfaction indicators, retention rates, and time to hire. Gathering data and providing solutions for how these metrics can be influenced is the best way to speak the language of business leaders and to develop a relationship with key executives.

One way to bring leaders’ attention to the need for HR strategy is the topic of employee engagement. Employee engagement is a complex HR challenge which requires high-level strategy to address. Increasing employee engagement has been proven to help organizations retain talent, increase customer loyalty, and improve organizational performance and stakeholder value.

For a thorough look at how to enhance this crucial part of HR strategy, view our free ebook:

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Caroline researches and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at L&D and HR issues and industry trends and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.