Diplomat. Strategist. Fortune Teller. Job = Modern Day HR Business Partner


By, Cari Desiderio

The trendy term for HR today is business partner. But, what does it mean exactly?  And how does it differ from the way HR used to operate?

The simplest explanation is to say that HR is shifting away from more transactional work, to become more business focused. This does not mean that we can give up our technical HR and compliance knowledge base.  Just because the day to day task loads are shifting to outsourcing options or in house centers of excellence, does not mean that our knowledge of what the content is comprised of should disappear.  Our knowledge base of HR compliance in all the states or countries we operate in needs to remain.

But, in addition to knowing how to manage files or how to administer FMLA, there is a whole new world of competencies required in order to be valued in the modern day organization.

HR partners who make the cut are those who get the business. And who have an uncanny good ability to advise and lead the type of people decisions that get results.  This is not an easy thing.  In fact, I would argue that successful HR business partners can only be those with a very strong intuition for people and strong intuition for business.  Some of this can certainly be studied and taught.  However, there may be some HR professionals who are hard wired for task orientation and struggle with boundary less terrain that requires utilization of many senses to guide the path.

In a way, to earn credibility and be needed, HR now has to offer a special skill set that the operational and business leaders don’t have.  Strong HR business partners have heightened natural people and situation management acumen. I call this the art of diplomacy.  What does a diplomat do?  He/she engages varying sides and negotiates.   Acts as the peacemaker and integrator of different groups. It’s not much different in business.  A strong HR partner is able to move through all of the crowds and cultures and help them find common ground. There is no better example of this perhaps than a corporate acquisition resulting in the merging of two cultures.  In today’s rampantly changing business world, such activity is commonplace.  My company has been through eleven of these in recent years.  The success or failure of an acquisition is based on far more than the financials and a good product to sell.  If the people cannot come together, don’t expect the business to succeed.  Diplomacy can help smooth the path of integration.

Another critical HR Business Partner competency is what I call the art of strategy.  This is where keen business understanding comes into play.  If you as a HR partner are not studying your business climate, understanding what markets are facing, understanding the global climate, understanding the SWOT analysis, then you best not force any idea on your operational teams.  If however you are a HR partner who studies these things and then looks at ways to shape and move the people performance in the direction of business opportunity, by engaging and deploying talent, then you have shifted to the position of an HR strategist.

My last competency is perhaps a bit comedic. I call it the art of fortune telling.  Silly perhaps and of course I do not mean literal crystal balls.  But, rather, a strong HR business partner necessarily must be a student of culture, people, environments and as a combination of these observations have a good handle on predicting what is ahead.  Some time back I found myself in a culture that was pretty broken and lacking trust.  I assessed this and in a few months time advised the business leaders that if we did not correct course we were at risk of losing a number of very long term and critical members of the team, including critical managers.  I wish that my prediction did not come true.  Through this situation my credibility and respect with the leaders grew.  Call it uncanny intuition if you will.  I call it keen observation of what is going on, followed by courage to respectfully speak up about it.  Know your people. Get ahead of things.  Advise your leaders. You will be invited into meetings and executive committees that you never thought you’d be part of, once they realize you are a true subject matter expert in the art of people leadership. 

The cool thing about being a modern day HR Business Partner is that there is never a dull day!  People and business and strategy are complex, engaging, challenging and rewarding. Hats off to the HR professionals who step up to the challenge and become tomorrow’s business leaders!



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