HR Business Partnering

HR business partnering is powerful but deceptively difficult. Develop your organisation's HR professionals for effective HR business partnering

HR Business Partner skills

More and more organisations are looking to the Ulrich Model as a way of organising HR to deliver.

The anticipated benefits of the HR Business Partner model are, however, proving elusive in many cases.

the reason for this is that the Ulrich model only addresses structures and changes are needed to the skills and behaviour of your HR professionals for the model to succeed. 

Scroll down or click here to read our article on these issues and how they can be addressed.



Our solutions

We can help you build a developmental program that will change the skills and behaviours of your HR professionals while working on the live issues of the day.

See also

HR Change Consulting

HR Strategy Development

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To understand how we could help, and whether you could work with us, please Contact Us – we'd love to hear from you.

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Increasing the effectiveness of the Human Resources function through HR strategy and skills development

HR Business Partnering – Beyond the mirage.
 Wouldn’t it be great if HR in your organisation had an excellent reputation for its commercial outlook, its relationships with line managers and its track record of positively influencing and driving change? In this utopian world your HR people would be happy and in control, line managers would be taking responsibility for their own day-to-day HR issues and the HR team would be able to address the strategic and underlying people issues.
Changing the role of HR
Over the years there have been many developments in thinking about the role of HR and how to execute it.  The outcome has often been a new way to organise HR to deliver.
Often the intention is to shift the relationship between HR and the rest of the organisation.  The chosen solution, interestingly, is usually to achieve this through changes to organisational structures, and sometimes to processes. The underlying issue, however, is one of behaviour.
Of late, Business Partnering and the Ulrich model have been very influential; many organisations are adopting the model or are applying the principles in the way they organise themselves. There are many good reasons for this and Ulrich has made many helpful distinctions and clarifications about the different roles of HR and how to structure the function to deliver them.
Why is the HR Business Partner approach a mirage in many organisations?
HR directors we have spoken to are able to show us a very clear picture of the new structure, roles and responsibilities and processes for how they now intend HR work to flow amongst different teams and people. They have been through a lot of hard work and the changes for their teams have often been traumatic.
Most of them, however, also talk about their frustration and disappointment that the benefits they were expecting are proving elusive. What people are actually doing doesn’t correspond to the exciting vision that they set off towards.

In our conversations with HR directors and professionals, and indeed with Chief Executives, who are working with an HR Business Partnering model, we have identified some common issues.
- The business case was relatively easy to sell, as was the structural change, however, the predicted cost benefits aren’t being realised.
- HR people are asked to play a new, more strategic, role but are still doing the job of a traditional HR manager.
- Line managers are unclear about what HR now does, what they themselves should be doing and are angry that there is, if anything, less HR support to help them deliver.
- Working relationships between HR and the line deteriorate rather than improving.
- Achieving a real shift of operational people responsibilities, both within HR and, particularly, towards line management is extremely difficult.

As a result, performance on people metrics such as staff satisfaction, staff turnover and absence don’t show expected improvements and, if anything, decline.  And compliance with HR processes like performance management and recruitment is falling.

So the HR Business Partnering model looks as though it is in place, but is failing to deliver the expected benefits – like a mirage in the desert that promises a drink but which always seems just out of reach.
Why isn’t it working?

Our thinking has led us to conclude that the underlying people and relationship issues, and organisations’ failure to fully address them, are the reasons for the failure to deliver the full benefits of the HRBP model.
- Making the structural change is often much harder than expected and there is a tendency to breathe a sigh of relief and stop once that is completed, rather than to go on to embed the needed behavioural changes. Successful delivery of the structural change alone is insufficient to sustainably change the way people behave.

- HR professionals have been traditionally valued for (and comfortable with the power they derive from) their expert HR knowledge. In the new HRBP world they are much more dependent upon establishing relationships based on their interpersonal and business skills. The knowledge they need has also changed.  HR expertise has to be supplemented by  broader based business knowledge and understanding.

- Line managers have been traditionally valued for (and likewise are comfortable with) their technical expertise and for the delivery of objectives. In the new world they are required to take on a broader role including the complexities of people issues which historically someone else would deal with for them. Line managers too, therefore, need both new kinds of knowledge and different skills to succeed.

- HR people are asked to play a new, more strategic, role but are limited in their ability to do so by the volume of day to day operational pressures which do not go away.

- In practice, line managers continue to use HR to help deal with operational issues, and do not give them the mandate to think and act at a strategic level.

In order to work successfully the Business Partner model needs stronger relationships between HR and the business; the effect of these issues is actually to strain them further. 

What new skills, knowledge and behaviour do HRBPs need?
In a recent CIPD branch meeting with a large group of HR professionals a surprising consensus kept emerging from a number of subgroup discussions.  To be a successful HRBP an HR professional needs much stronger consulting and coaching skills.
Consulting skills in an HR context require the ability to diagnose business and HR issues, design effective interventions in partnership with the line, deliver those interventions through others, and evaluate and learn from their success.
The role of an HR Business Partner as a coach to line managers is to raise their awareness of their people issues, to keep responsibility for them where it belongs and to increase line managers’ ability to lead their people effectively.
So what options are available to address these needs?
Both HR people and line managers find themselves in an environment where they need to work differently. However, even if they can clearly identify the new skills and behaviours they need, have no means  of developing them.
There are a variety of courses available on consulting skills and even more on coaching.  However, none of these address the real needs of HRBPs, which are for a programme which:
  Brings together coaching and consulting.
  Is specifically designed for the HR context.
  Helps them hone their commercial skills.
  Allows them to apply their learning to their current organisational challenges.
  Supports their development over time rather than being a ‘one hit’.
  Fosters learning among HRBPs about their experiences.
  Helps them develop the capability of their line management colleagues.
  Focusses on improving working relationships with the line.
  Delivers results as well as increased capability.
How might these skills be developed?
Our contention is that Coaching and Consulting in an HR context are closely related and that developing them should be undertaken together rather than separately.
- To work successfully with line management clients an HRBP needs to be an effective consultant and a skilful coach at one and the same time. Consulting processes on their own are insufficient because without a strong relationship and the consequent ability to influence at a personal level they are perceived as mere bureaucracy.

- Coaching behaviours alone, on the other hand, do not bring the expected level of professional expertise and analysis to the client’s issues.

- Consulting expertise tends to operate and seek to influence at an organisational level; coaching expertise tends to do these things with individuals. Deploying both sets of skills together gives the powerful combination of organisational impact and changes to leaders’ behaviour which is needed to bring about real and sustainable change.  
What might a programme to develop these skills look like?

The most effective model for such a programme will
- Work on real business issues in parallel with the learning and development.
- Have a heavy emphasis on practice as well as the theory.
- Ensure mutual support and challenge.
- Model the consulting processes and coaching behaviours that are being developed.
- Apply the learning to deliver real time and immediate application to address current organisational issues.
- Be commercial and business focussed in its content and approach.
- Continue over a period of time, to learn from application and embed the effect.
- Help the participants spread their learning among their clients and colleagues.
We have developed a unique and powerful programme which takes these principles and, over a period of about 9 months, blends skill development with practice in applying them to the participants’ current real business issues.
In conclusion 

Our contention is that, by relying on structure and process change, many attempts to improve the reputation and performance of HR are stalling. Expected benefits are not being realised, HR workloads are increasing and relationships between HR and their line colleagues are deteriorating. Equipping HR professionals with high level consulting and coaching skills will complete the transformation from operational support to strategic partner and trusted counsel.


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The easiest way to understand how we can help, and whether you feel that you could work with us, is to begin with a conversation.

We don't believe in a "hard sell" and often find that people get value out of the exploratory discussion - whether or not we go on to work together.

Please Contact Us – we would love to hear from you.


HR Business Partnering

HR business partnering is powerful but deceptively difficult. Develop your organisation's HR professionals for effective HR business partnering