HR leaders see the need for change behind the scenes to accommodate the added knowledge, advisory capabilities and stature required for a successful business partner.
John Lynch, CHRO at GE, feels that “with technology, outsourcing and COEs (centers of excellence), there are ways to do the transactional work so that HR professionals inside the business really can add value. You have to be efficient and at the same time more effective in transactions, in relationships and as leaders of the business. That’s a real change for HR – from the early industrial relations experts of yesterday to the growth leaders of tomorrow.”
Morris explains how a center of excellence model empowers the partner: “Behind the partner it should be seamless to the business,” she says. “The people who are masters at building compensation or reward programs, attracting great talent, developing talent, etc. – the functional experts – they help support the business partner’s mission.”
Paul Humphries, EVP of HR and president medical, automotive and aerospace at Flextronics, agrees. “We’ve been trying to shift away from HR as an administrative function to more of a strategic one,” he says. Moving transactional work to a shared services center is part of the effort. So is implementation of a more extensive HR information system. “It’s having the objective of supporting the business, putting the organization and skills in place to do that, and then taking the other work away” that enables HR to maximize strategic impact.
Sterling Bank EVP of HR Karla Gehlen observes that the COE approach enables the HR business partner to become a single, consistent touch point. She says that “the people who are interfacing with clients – the business leaders – must be one voice to the customer so the customer has a one-stop shop.
That’s the HR business partner who understands leaders’ needs, knows the organizational structure, helps with talent assessments and understands what leaders are trying to accomplish. The partner becomes the one voice of HR, whose goal is to support that business leader.”
Backed by an enabling structure in the HR function, the business partner of the future will need to bring a more sophisticated set of competencies to his or her work. CHROs paint a picture of an evolved partner who will function fluidly as trusted advisor, business guru, chief supporter, devil’s advocate, brainstormer and creative problem solver. One HR leader described the role as “the consigliere model – more counselor than technical expert; the person who is there to listen and provide advice on the very complex subject of human behavior, but who also understands legal requirements and other aspects of HR.”
Gehlen says that the role will not only encompasses a basic understanding of “how the business works and how the company makes money,” but also the ability to be a skilled questioner in order to elicit information needed to help leaders identify issues and leverage opportunities.
CHROs named organizational development or design skills, change facilitation, coaching, integrity and influence among the attributes they view as essential for the accomplished business partner.
High-performing organizations add more competencies to that list, including: strategic thinking, strategic execution, strategy development, business ethics, decision-making, team-building and understanding of technology.