Today’s business leaders are under increasing pressure to be both lean and competitive, which means that every function must contribute to the organisation being more successful.
With regard to human resources, this means that the HR function ought to think and act as performance advisors to the business
The i4cp report, The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor, explores key themes highlighted below.
Shifting focus from relevance to business impact
Many HR leaders and professionals have struggled for years to establish HR’s relevancy in the view of senior leaders.
But really, the question isn’t about relevance of the function or gaining a “seat at the table;” rather, the question should be:
Impact in generating revenue and customer satisfaction.
the role of HR business partners
From changes in the very structure of the function, to the elevation of analytics and the evolving role of the business partner, HR has much to look forward to as it transitions to greater strategic value creation in the coming years.
According to the human capital executives interviewed, the HR business partner is at the forefront of the function’s evolution, redefining the role and scope of the traditional HR professional. This includes a new mindset about the profession’s core strengths, along with a new and complex set of competencies that will be needed to achieve business impact in the future.
HR business partner
a trusted advisor and strategic resource for business leaders who can help drive organisational performance
For HR, the challenge is finding and developing talent to fill that business partner role.
Today’s top CHROs say that probably means looking beyond HR.
Moving from Generalists to Strategists
Many organisations use the term generalist to describe a position that often operates at a lower or mid-level in the business that touches multiple aspects of HR.
However, in high performing companies the generalist function is giving way to a more strategic role, which combines in-depth business savvy and trusted consultative skills in order to coach leaders of business functions on how to be more competitive and productive.
In i4cp’s report Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor, research shows that HR business partners have a presence in 43% of high-performing organisations – based on profitability, market share, revenue growth and customer satisfaction as compared to five years previously.
One HR leader explained that the traditional, lower-level generalist “doesn’t do strategic work. Generalists execute the strategy. In contrast, the HR business partner is someone who can have robust conversations about people issues in the business. He or she knows how to identify potential problems and brainstorm creative solutions.”
The competencies HR business partners must have
With HR poised to move more decisively toward a functional structure that revolves around the business partner, the skills required of HR professionals are changing.
Business and strategy capabilities account for more than half of the top competencies respondents say will be the most vital hallmarks of the future HR professional. HR business partners will “… need to understand how the business works and how the company makes money,” says Sterling Bank’s EVP of HR Karla Gehlen.
Beyond business-specific skills, the need for certain qualitative competencies, such as self-awareness and self-confidence were also highlighted by i4cp’s research.
Dean Carter, CHRO at Sears Holdings, calls emotional intelligence an indispensible attribute for HR professionals.
Pete Pesce, AT Kearney’s CHRO, says that confidence is a must-have.
And Tim Massa, VP of HR at Kroger, declares courage the number one competency for tomorrow’s HR professionals.
Refined Structure + New Competencies = Business Partner Excellence
HR leaders see the need for change behind the scenes to accommodate the added knowledge, advisory capabilities and stature required for a successful business partner.
John Lynch, CHRO at GE, feels that “with technology, outsourcing and COEs (centers of excellence), there are ways to do the transactional work so that HR professionals inside the business really can add value. You have to be efficient and at the same time more effective in transactions, in relationships and as leaders of the business. That’s a real change for HR – from the early industrial relations experts of yesterday to the growth leaders of tomorrow.”
Donna Morris, SVP of HR and CHRO at Adobe explains how a center of excellence model empowers the partner: “Behind the partner it should be seamless to the business,” she says. “The people who are masters at building compensation or reward programs, attracting great talent, developing talent, etc. – the functional experts – they help support the business partner’s mission.”
Paul Humphries, EVP of HR and president medical, automotive and aerospace at Flextronics, agrees. “We’ve been trying to shift away from HR as an administrative function to more of a strategic one,” he says.
Moving transactional work to a shared services center is part of the effort. So is implementation of a more extensive HR information system.
“It’s having the objective of supporting the business, putting the organisation and skills in place to do that, and then taking the other work away” that enables HR to maximise strategic impact.
Sterling Bank EVP of HR Karla Gehlen observes that the COE approach enables the HR business partner to become a single, consistent touch point. She says that “the people who are interfacing with clients – the business leaders – must be one voice to the customer so the customer has a one-stop shop.
That’s the HR business partner who understands leaders’ needs, knows the organisational structure, helps with talent assessments and understands what leaders are trying to accomplish. The partner becomes the one voice of HR, whose goal is to support that business leader.”
Backed by an enabling structure in the HR function, the business partner of the future will need to bring a more sophisticated set of competencies to his or her work.
CHROs paint a picture of an evolved partner who will function fluidly as trusted advisor, business guru, chief supporter, devil’s advocate, brainstormer and creative problem solver.
One HR leader described the role as “the consigliere model – more counselor than technical expert; the person who is there to listen and provide advice on the very complex subject of human behavior, but who also understands legal requirements and other aspects of HR.”
Gehlen says that the role will not only encompasses a basic understanding of “how the business works and how the company makes money,” but also the ability to be a skilled questioner in order to elicit information needed to help leaders identify issues and leverage opportunities.
organisational development, design skills, change facilitation, coaching, integrity and influence, are among the attributes needed for the business partner role
As HR continues its evolution to organisational performance advisor, the business partner role will continue its shift.
The sourcing of this role will evolve, as will the competencies that companies are looking for and the organisational structures they put in place to support it.