HR Business Partners: Rising Expectations & Demand

Alice Benson, CEO & President

We recently received a call from one of the most highly regarded HR leaders in the U.S. and a magnet for HR talent. Yet, he was struggling to find a HR Business Partner (HRBP) to support and steer employees during his company’s rapid expansion in an increasingly complex global market.

HRBPs are those journeyman HR generalists who partner with business unit leaders to strategically align business objectives with the capabilities and career goals of employees. They are also our future CHROs.

Demands on the HR function have intensified, with organizations needing HR to drive workforce attraction, management and engagement strategies. This, in turn, has elevated the expectations for HRBPs. Deloitte’s 2016 study “Human Resource Transformation: What’s Next?” found that 72% of HR professionals report business partners are playing a strategic advisory role in developing and implementing strategies aligned to meet business objectives.

Over the past five years, we have seen a dramatic uptick in the demand for this challenging HRBP position. Here’s why:

  • A robust economy. The growth in the overall economy has led to an increasing number of companies competing for skilled HRBPs in the global marketplace.
  • Changing business models. The global economy shines a spotlight on product and service innovation, which means employee creativity and collaboration have become distinct competitive advantages. Employers recognize that people and intellectual capital are its most important assets.
  • New workforce needs. We are operating in a candidate-driven market. Professionals are demanding more from employers in terms of corporate social responsibility consistent with their values, work/life integration, career paths and an opportunity to make an impact on the company. HRBPs are critical to building an attractive employer brand.

HRBPs who know how to build these capabilities into the fabric of an organization are few and far between, yet critical. Nothing in the HRBP’s formal training or in their formative experience gets them fully ready for this challenge.

Consequently, it is not surprising that demand for promising HRBPs is outpacing supply. Here are three strategies to cultivate and develop your HR team:

  1. Look for high-potential employees on your HR team and develop them now. Invest in people who show leadership skills and initiative and who are respected by management and employees. Look for strategic thinkers who can drive innovation, regardless of their level or job function. These are the intangible qualities that are hard to teach but critical for your company’s success. The people who have them will be able to learn the ins and outs of your business quickly. Pair them with a mentor, and watch them grow.
  1. Look outside of HR. The ideal HRBP may not have an HR background at all but instead be someone who understands business and builds relationships with ease. Look across the organization for an intrinsic problem-solver who is data driven, good at motivating others and fostering collaboration and who exhibits good decision-making skills. Having a mix of HR and non-HR perspectives on the team offers broader insight. It’s also time we bury the “banishment” legacy of being sent to HR. The HR function and its role have changed profoundly. Rotating into HR must be seen as enhancing an employee’s skill set.
  2. Look beyond big brand names. When looking outside your company for talent and developing your sourcing strategy, keep an open mind. Don’t be dazzled just by candidates who come from top-brand companies. Instead, look for your next HRBP in companies known as workforce innovators regardless of their product and service reputation or size.

Pursuing a combination of these three strategies will prepare your HR team to meet escalating demands and build a pipeline of HRBPs — and future CHROs.