From HR generalist to HR business partner

by 14 Nov 2006

Q. I have been an HR generalist for some years and would like a role as an HR business partner. Can you suggest some key areas I should focus on to achieve this?

A. As the HR function continues to evolve, the expectations required by the business and the perceived value increases. The business no longer looks to HR to purely deliver a suite of generalist services; rather they are looking for a “partner” who will work with them to achieve the business objectives. So how do you become a business partner?

Firstly, develop your business understanding. To truly partner with a business you need to know the metrics by which organisations are measured as well as the external business realities. Regardless of the industry sector, you need to build your knowledge and comprehension of how businesses tick. This goes beyond reading the balance sheet. Do you understand market share, EBIT, shareholder value, global issues and economic influences. While you don’t need to be the expert, you do need to appreciate the impact.

Sharpen your internal consulting capability. Often HR generalists focus on providing high levels of customer service to their internal clients and while this is a positive trait, to truly partner you must shift from purely advising managers to consulting. This is about being involved in developing the solution, offering alternatives, highlighting the risk, pushing back where need be, troubleshooting and holding people accountable for their leadership.

Increase your experience in complex change and strategic initiatives. Business partner roles expect you to be able to work at the strategic level and therefore it is important that you gain exposure in leading projects or interventions that are complex, change oriented and require conceptual thinking. Importantly they should deliver business outcomes that are of value.

Craft your coaching skills. As a HR business partner, part of your remit is to shape and enhance the people leadership capability of managers. To do this you must learn the skills of coaching so that you can be effective in transferring your skills and knowledge to truly empower others. Participate in an accredited coaching program and put it into practice in your workplace.

Hone your leadership skills. Although a business partner role rarely involves leading a direct team, your experience in managing your own team’s performance, development and motivation will significantly increase your credibility to coach and support other managers. There may be an opportunity on your path to business partnering that allows you this experience.

Be on top of your profession. Ensure you are researching and benchmarking good HR practice outside of your own organisation. You need to be an expert in your own profession and must take responsibility for knowing the trends, practices and models currently used. The business will rely upon you to provide the most up-to-date solutions.

One of the most important factors that will support you on your journey from HR generalist to HR business partner, is choosing the right organisation to work with. Seek out organisations that expect their mangers to lead and be accountable for their people. These companies will typically understand that they need to resource or deliver HR transactional services in a way that allows their HR business partners to spend more time with their clients working on value adding activities that can improve business performance.

Overall it is about enriching your HR and commercial skills as well as learning a new way to work with the business.

By Angela Horkings, director, The Next Step, Melbourne.


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