8 Skills HR Business Partners Need for Success

By: | August 14, 2019 • 4 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

Why the HR Business Partner is An Evolving Role

In July, I convened a meeting with senior HR leaders from a range of companies, including Verizon, IBM, P&G, United Health Group, Medidata, BASF and Colgate-Palmolive. The meeting’s sole purpose was to discuss the role of the HR business partner in modern business.

Throughout the day, we discussed how this role has changed over the years and what it looks like now; the traits and skills required; and the kind of training and development activities that would help HR professionals move into the role. As expected, each leader brought different perspectives to the conversation.

In this month’s column, I’ll discuss my view of the HRBP role—past and present. In next month’s column, I’ll share how an evolved role fits into the ongoing transformation of HR and some of the ideas we discussed for training and development.


SHRM describes an HR business partner as follows: “The HR business partner position is responsible for aligning business objectives with employees and management in designated business units. The position serves as a consultant to management on human resource-related issues. The successful HRBP acts as an employee champion and change agent.”

I view the HR business partner as a “forward-facing” HR consultant embedded in the business. HRBPs should live in the business, understand it thoroughly and work proactively with business leaders on various workforce challenges and strategies. I would prefer to do away with the term “partner” because it continues to reinforce the idea that the individual is just an HR order taker specifically assigned to the business.

I believe the HRBP role exists in some fashion in virtually any company. In small companies, vice presidents of HR or HR managers are essentially business partners. In large global companies, HRBPs are resident in business units, geographies or functions. While they are expected to have extensive knowledge about HR operations, their more important function is as senior advisors, consultants and experts to business leaders. Their allegiance is first to their business leaders, second to HR.