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The new role of the HR business partner: Powering Systemic HR™

Human Resource Executive
Josh Bersin and Kathi Enderes
Josh 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. Kathi Enderes, Ph.D., is a senior vice president and global industry analyst at The Josh Bersin Company, supporting clients and the market with evidence-based insights on all areas of HR, learning, talent and HR technology. She is a frequent keynote speaker, author and thought leader.

In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, the HR business partner (HRBP) role emerges not just as a pivotal element but as the unsung hero steering systemic HR transformation. This role, often underestimated, is at the heart of bridging the gap between the HR function and core business operations. It’s about time we shed light on this critical role, exploring its historical roots, its undeniable importance in today’s corporate world and how the world’s best companies are revolutionizing it to drive Systemic HR™.

From HR generalist to senior business consultant

The HRBP role is designed to bridge the gap between HR and the core business, ensuring that HR strategies and practices are closely aligned with business objectives. This role is not just about implementing HR policies but about understanding the business challenges and leveraging HR expertise to design solutions that enhance organizational performance and employee experience.

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More from Josh Bersin: 8 skills HR business partners need for success

Initially conceived in the 1990s as part of the new HR Service Delivery Model, the role was the connection point into the business. As companies transformed their HR functions to streamline operations and centralize many activities, the HRBP role often became the “catch-all” for things business managers were struggling with. This includes things like addressing employee relations issues, handholding managers in writing job descriptions and supporting onboarding of new employees. Over time, the role has evolved to become more integrated into the business, with HRBPs playing a crucial role in strategic planning and execution.

Why the role is so important

In today’s fast-paced and complex business environment, the importance of the HRBP role cannot be overstated. HRBPs are uniquely positioned to understand both the business and its people, making them essential in driving organizational change, fostering employee engagement and building a culture that supports business goals. They act as change agents, coaches and advisors, not only to HR but to business leaders, helping to navigate the challenges of talent management, leadership development and organizational design.

The critical role of HRBPs in Systemic HR

As organizations embrace Systemic HR, the role of the HRBP is undergoing a significant transformation. Systemic HR emphasizes a holistic, agile and integrated approach to HR, moving beyond siloed functions to address complex business problems through cross-functional collaboration. In this context, HRBPs are expected to possess a deep understanding of the business, strong analytical skills and the ability to work seamlessly across different domains.

Organizations struggle

In our Systemic HR study, we uncovered the truth about the HRBP role today: Most organizations are still stuck in legacy approaches, struggling to adopt leading practices and strategies.

  • Only 24% of organizations have HRBPs partner with business leaders on solution design.
  • Only 15% of companies believe their HRBPs can redesign work or organizations.
  • Only 12% of companies train HRBPs on offerings and issues.

Learn how global organizations are leveraging HRBPs at HRE’s HR Technology Europe, May 2-3 in Amsterdam. Click here to register.

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Getting started on the new role of the HRBP

Leading companies are rethinking the HRBP role from the inside out, focusing on capability building, establishing a vision for the role and redesigning organizational structures to support this journey. Here are five suggestions for beginning the work.

  • Build full-stack HRBP capabilities. HRBPs need new capabilities to become effective consultants to the business. For instance, the LEGO Group defined the capabilities of HRBPs to focus on change management, transformation readiness, leadership coaching, business acumen, data-based decision making and organization design, and it leverages project assignments in addition to formal training with the Josh Bersin Academy to foster these new capabilities.
  • Rotate HRBPs inside and outside of HR. To build these capabilities, companies need to move HRBPs around, rotating them within HR and outside of HR. Dropbox has “bungee” assignments for HRBPs that could be two weeks to several months long, enabling them to explore other areas of HR and the business. This increases business acumen and helps break down siloes while also creating better solutions for the business.
  • Clarify the HRBP role. Clearly stating the roles and expectations for HRBPs with the business helps avoid the “jack of all trades” trap. Mastercard focused on establishing a clear vision for the people business partner role, creating more consistency around responsibilities, and aligning capabilities with business needs. This approach has enabled the company to increase operational excellence and better support rapid employee growth and a changing external environment.
  • Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Central to Systemic HR is the philosophy of deeply understanding the root causes of problems before attempting to solve them. TomTom is actively pursuing this mindset change. By focusing on understanding the complexity of problems and ensuring the right people are working on them, TomTom’s HRBPs are able to devise solutions that are effective and aligned with the company’s strategic objectives.
  • Restructure the HRBP team. Legacy approaches where HRBPs are assigned to each business group leave gaping holes in enterprise priorities. IBM and ING leverage pools of HRBPs to address critical enterprise business challenges, redesign the role of the senior-most HRBP to function as a senior consulting partnerunburdened from tactical team management responsibilitiesand include HRBPs in key design projects, breaking down siloes.

The role of the HR business partner is more critical than ever in the era of Systemic HR. As organizations strive to navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape, HRBPs stand at the crossroads of HR and business, driving strategic initiatives that align with business objectives and enhance organizational performance.

Join us at 2 p.m. ET on April 11 for an in-depth discussion on this critical topic during a Human Resource Executive webinar titled The New Role of the HR Business Partner: Powering Systemic HR™. To learn more from Bersin, Enderes and other HR experts, register for Human Resource Executive’s HR Technology Europe on May 2-3 in Amsterdam, where Bersin will present the opening keynote on The Revolutionary Effects of AI and Technology on the Employee Experience.