Way to the boardroom for HR is via business partnering


Way to the boardroom for HR is via business partnering

If human resource professionals are to gain a position at the “top table”, contributing to the strategic direction of their businesses, they first need to build business credibility, gain influence and show that they are adding value. This is one of the conclusions resulting from the findings of recently-published toolkit, entitled HR Business Partnering, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

The tookit is designed to help HR departments identify any skills gaps they may have and then develop their team’s capabilities, applying those skills to become genuine business partners.


Such moves, the report says, will help strip away the traditional business view of the HR profession in its “ivory tower”, replacing it with a much more “street wise” and strategically-aligned image.

What is business partnering?

The CIPD says the term “business partnering” involves the restructuring of HR into three specialist sub-functions originally based on the now well-known model developed by US academic David Ulrich:

  • Shared services – a single, often relatively large unit that handles all the routine “transactional” services across the business such as payroll or absence monitoring, for example.
  • Centres of excellence – usually small teams of HR experts with specialist knowledge of leading-edge HR solutions, for instance, reward or talent management.
  • Strategic partners – a few HR professionals working closely with business leaders influencing strategy and steering its implementation.

The CIPD says: “Business partnering is a fundamental rethink of what HR is for and how it is measured. Today’s HR department aims to deliver a stronger, more competitive business, and is judged on its success in meeting business targets including reducing costs, improving customer service, quicker delivery and product innovation. Partnering makes HR accountable to the business, and expects HR to add real value. This is a shift away from traditional HR functions where purpose, priorities and successes were defined within HR.”

Why business partnering?

Organisations seem to be embracing business partnering in response to three main business pressures. These are:

  • the need to reduce costs
  • accelerating competition
  • rising expectations.

Because none of the pressures driving partnering are likely to ease, it is expected that more and more organisations will adopt this approach. Smaller organisations are also affected, and they will have to respond with their own variations on the partner model.

Currently, however, according to Shirley Dalziel, co-author of the toolkit, many human resource professionals struggle to make the transition from traditional HR to a strategic business partner. For this reason, the toolkit seeks to help HR professionals identify skills gaps, develop team capabilities and then apply those skills to become genuine business partners.

About the Toolkit

But Dalziel warns HR professionals that having the skills is not enough – it is applying them in the chaotic and frantic world of work while still delivering the transactional duties of HR that is the real challenge.

The CIPD toolkit helps by providing development activities, practical implementation advice and case studies to show different examples of HR business partnering.

It explores the following areas:

  • Implementing HR business partnering – providing advice on creating the vision for HR, identifying future roles and the skills required to succeed.
  • Developing as an HR business partner – offering information on developing HR business partner competencies, managing change and using consulting skills.
  • Operating within the business – giving advice on acting strategically, carrying out senior team reviews and managing talent.
  • Accessing the effectiveness of HR business partnering – offering tips on measuring HR business partnering, assessing the effectiveness and reviewing the partnering model.

Additional factsheet available

In addition to the toolkit, the CIPD provides summary information on the subject in the form of a factsheet on its web site at www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/corpstrtgy/general/hrbusprtnr.htm?IsSrchRes=1.

Updated in October 2007, this examines what business partnering is, why organisations are embracing it, HR models that can be applied and ways to implement the various choices available and their implications for HR professionals.

In particular, it focuses on the different models of partnering and examines ways to implement and strengthen them. It also looks at considerations when appointing and developing business partners and the implications for HR careers.

Such implications include:

  • There will always be jobs for HR generalists, but fewer of them. An increasing number of HR professionals will have to choose which specialist business partner role is right for them. HR professionals should discover more about the new roles, and make choices.
  • HR directors and their line management customers will want HR professionals who have added significant value to organisations. Qualifications, years of experience and leading-edge projects may count for little, unless you can demonstrate how they added value.
  • Because knowledge of the particular business and strong relationships are so vitally important good HR professionals will be especially valued. But HR professionals will not be able to switch organisations and industries as easily.
  • HR functions that shape and implement business strategy will attract the most able HR professionals. HR functions which seem to be tinkering with a strategy largely decided by line managers will struggle to get good people.
  • More attention may be needed to create “pathways” by which individuals can acquire the experience to perform senior HR roles.

CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD says: “The key value of Ulrich’s model does not lie in outlining new structures but in his analysis of HR roles. Business partnering refocuses attention on some basic issues about how HR is to achieve its aims: supporting line managers, aligning HR activities with the business and delivering efficient services. However, partnering is not simply a repackaging of good HR practice. Partnering is a 'paradigm shift' for most HR functions; it requires a revolution in HR’s values, operation and skills.”

A final word

“In today’s knowledge economy it is in the interest of the business that HR are on the top table contributing to the strategic direction of the business. People are central to business success and HR can add real value to business by focusing on the wider business and outcomes as well as the traditional HR specialisms.” - Shirley Dalziel, co-author, HR Business Partnering.

Want to know more?

Title: HR Business Partnering, by Shirley Dalziel, Director of Develop UK, Judith Strange, Director of Develop UK, and Mike Walters, HR practitioner and consultant, published by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Availability: The toolkit is available from www.cipd.co.uk/bookstore. It is priced at £375 for CIPD members (£415 for non members).

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has more than 127,500 members and is the “leading professional institute for those involved in the management and development of people”. For more information visit the CIPD web site at www.cipd.co.uk.