HR as a Business Partner

The term ‘business partner’ is often highlighted as an important aspect in discussions about the role of the human resource manager but being a ‘business partner’ needs wide business knowledge. According to a new report released by the CIPD three fifths of HR practitioners feel that the profession needs to be ‘business savvy’ with improved understanding of business issues. But the CIPD acknowledges that this can be easier said than done. The CIPD report shows that a common trait among the people they interviewed was curiosity about the organization in which they worked and the wider context in which they operated. One way of achieving wider business knowledge is to mix a HR career with more general business experience.

According to Liz Ogden, HR director at G4S:

“People who are really successful have a curiosity about the whole business. Being really current demonstrates credibility and so I read all the business papers regularly, picking up information about competitors, mergers and acquisitions and senior moves. In my career I have also tried to move back into the line, out of HR, every four or five years. I see myself as a business person first, with an HR discipline; not as an HR director but as a business leader. I think if someone is really serious about a career in HR, they should get out of HR and into the business to really understand the organisation and get credibility.”

The CIPD report concludes that ‘business savvy gives HR credibility and the courage to challenge the relentless pursuit of short term goals that can be detrimental to the long term success of the organization.’ The report identifies four sets of behaviours characteristic of business savvy HR professional:

>> Understanding the business model at depth: understanding where value is created and destroyed within their employing organizations and being able to identify the points that are people-related which can be improved to drive value and enhance the organization’s performance.
>> Generating insight through evidence and data: having the courage to ask questions and seek explanations even when required knowledge is obscured by technical or professional jargon.
>> Connecting with curiosity, purpose and impact: to be curious demonstrate curiosity about why and how the business operates so they can identify opportunities for improvement. Business savvy HR professionals do not wait to be asked – they take a proactive approach, making connections across the organization and collaborate at all levels.
>> Leading with integrity, consideration and challenge: serving stakeholders, not power structures, with a strong stewardship role based on the courage to challenge behaviour focused on short term business goals which are detrimental to the organization’s people and its long term success.

Stephanie Bird, Director of HR Capability and Public Policy at the CIPD, said:

“This is a most important piece of research for the CIPD as it underpins our mission to help the profession build its capability to deliver sustainable – not just short term – organisation performance. Previous research has shown us business savvy is one of the three savvies that HR practitioners must have in order to do this – and this is as true from day one in a career as it is at board level. We also know that many HR practitioners find it hard to understand what business savvy really is, and how to develop it. This report is the first step in helping them to understand just that. It is also clear that without it their credibility as professionals is damaged, and their ability to challenge flawed pursuits is fatally undermined.’’

John McGurk, learning and talent development adviser at the CIPD, commented:

“Business savvy practitioners at all levels are essential if HR is to fulfil its potential to be central to organisational strategy, and so it’s encouraging to see that the majority of HR professionals get this and continually and instinctively step up to the challenge. However, our research shows that the associated set of behaviours needs to be constantly reflected upon and practiced if they are to become embedded.”

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