Line managers: HR business partners ineffective

by 19 Feb 2008

There have been a variety of names for HR practitioners over the years. One of the more recent ones is “HR business partner”, which was first championed by HR guru Dave Ulrich in 1997 as the way forward for the HR profession. The term HR business partner implies that HR practitioners proactively work with line managers at all levels of the business they work in. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that: “Business partnering makes HR accountable to the business, and expects HR to add real value. This is a shift away from traditional HR functions where purpose, priorities and successes were defined within HR.”

While many companies have been happy to try the HR business partner model and HR practitioners have been happy to adopt the HR business partner title, recent research from the UK suggests that line managers are less than impressed with the results of the HR business partner model.

In a survey of 479 managers, research firm RoffeyPark found that more than half were unconvinced about the benefits of the HR business partner model, one quarter said it was ineffective and the rest were undecided on its merits. Managers who were critical of the model said that all too often there was a change in title for HR practitioners but no resulting change in the ability to think and contribute strategically.

While the model can contribute to the effectiveness of HR, it doesn’t really matter what name you attach to it. What matters are the individual HR practitioners, their skills and willingness to get involved in the business. This has long been HR’s problem, and judging from the results of the RoffeyPark survey, it still is.

It’s been said many times in many ways: HR as a profession in general and everyone who considers themselves to be a HR practitioner needs a quantum shift in thinking. While there are a number of HR professionals who have taken this leap and are taken seriously by the business, those practitioners who have not yet taken this step risk becoming irrelevant and quite possibly redundant in the years to come.