Article (October-2017)


The business of HR business partners

Prashant Rao

Designation : -   Asst Vice President - HR

Organization : -  Reliance Industries Limited


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With the rapid changes in the contents and contexts, the role of HR Professionals has undergone a sea change; a strong need has been felt to relook on the competencies of HR professionals from HR business partner's perspective. The focus on business has been mainly on account of the liberalization, digitalization, industrialization, changes in the socio economic scenario and emergence of the new work force dynamics.
The technology has created a strong sense of urgency for delivering, the change management is now a continual process and organizational processes and interventions have taken the new strides of ongoing transformation agenda.
The role of HR professionals have transformed from different paradigms, the role has witnessed transformation moving from  welfare, compliance, personnel, industrial relations, development to a partnering functions. The relationship of HR with the business has transformed purely from a standalone function of compliance, welfare, relationships, and support to an integrated partnering function with ownership and accountability for business results.
The change in the context has led the HR to be seen primarily from 3 aspects, firstly the HR business partners who work closely with the business to drive the business agenda, secondly HR operations being responsible for the basic compliance and analytic requirements and thirdly HR solutions for specific and customized HR solutions emerging from business requirements with focus on learning, development, managing talent and stakeholders.
The emergence of HR business partnering has added business perspectives in the role which has resulted in evolution of specific functional capabilities such as business know how, understanding business perspectives, deriving HR implications, aligning HR priorities with the business.
The impact has seen emergence of a new language for HR, the business specifics have assumed the front prerequisites for the outcomes of HR. The success or failure of any HR intervention has a direct linkage with the overall business outcomes and this has resulted in renewed focus on understanding and achieving the Business expectations from HR business partners.
In today's times the HR function needs to act as a people partner to the business, the role demands HR's integration into the business and the business expects HR to deliver integrated HR solution for the business on all people perspectives.
The business expectations for HR professionals include
  • How HR can add value to the business for enhancing stakeholder overall experience.
  • How HR can partner in reducing costs, improving efficiencies and add on to the ultimate value creation chain.  
  • How HR can master the real understanding of the business and the business priorities - how the business operates, willingness to share solutions for the complex business needs.
  • Focusing on the business critical activities and identifying HR implications.
  • Having a strong process with strong execution acumen for addressing problems.
The business of HR business partners stand on the five pillars as under:
1) Business know how for HR business partners
2) Deriving HR implications for the business
3) Deployment & execution of the HR business partner plan
4) Building business acumen for HR business partner
5) Building solid partnerships
1.0 Business know - how for HR business partners
The first and the foremost prerequisite for any HR professional aspiring to become an HR business partner is to understand business. This is the most difficult phase as understanding business requires capacities to get into the intricacies of getting beyond the functional arena.
Need to understand business starts from a process perspective, technology, levels of automation, products, applications of the products, market, customers, vendors, market trends, forecasts, contributions and the commercial aspects in terms of the associated costs/pricing. The process of understanding business can be acquired through application of education, experience and exposure with appropriate representation as part of the development plan. The specific deliverables with measurable action learning points can enhance the speedy execution of the learning requirements.Shadowing or minutely observing some of the critical skill sets of the roles in a business organization is the best way to sharpen the business know how.
The in-depth  interactions on the challenges faced by the stakeholders, initiatives undertaken to overcome the challenges and appreciation for the achievements and participation in the business review  meetings are some of the easy access opportunities for enhancing the business know - how for HR business partners.
2.0 Deriving HR implications for the business
The process of deriving HR implications is the next phase after mastering the understanding of the business. The HR professionals need to navigate with business managers in terms of building alignments for achieving the organizational objectives through:
a) What are the business challenges - intrinsic and extrinsic?
b) What are the HR implications in each of the business challenge?
c) What are the critical skills available for today and tomorrow?
d) What are the critical success factors from people perspectives?
e) Co Creating HR business partner plan
The HR business plan includes the overall HR actions developed after deriving HR implications. The plan has to be co - created and need not be a standalone plan by HR, for HR and of HR. The HR business partner needs to have the buy-in of the plan as collective ownership from the business by business, for business and of the business. This process facilitates the integration of HR business partners in to the role as a partner for the business. HR business partners shall have opportunities to build upon the business perspective while performing the role through understanding of the key strategic objectives & specific challenges of the organization.
The HR implications is all about understanding the people aspects of the business wherein the people aspects can be focused, discussed and deliberated for identifying  purposeful customized themes on priority areas for meaningful and impactful contributions.
Deriving the HR implications is an art as well as a science to bring about the business specific HR solutions for the business, the art includes the capturing essence of the people aspects and the science includes design & deployment of the HR processes, framework and customized interventions of HR solutions to be owned by the HR business partners and managers.
3.0 Deployment & execution - HR business partner plan
The HR business partners need to engage with the business on the deployment and execution of the plan and help the business in developing the appropriate governance mechanisms for effective review and mid - course corrections as required. This process shall help the HR business partners in delivering to the business while understanding and deploying systems thinking, understanding bigger organizational context/environment, contributing in shaping the direction of the business while offering specialist/expert solutions. 
HR business partners while performing the role needs to maintain a business focus in all their deliverables with focus on prioritization as per business requirements, demonstrate assertions and challenge whenever required, through appropriate probing/questioning, acquiring buy in from business and impact evaluation of the deployment of the business strategy.
The deployment and execution of HR business partner plan calls for synchronization of demonstration of key behaviors by managers as well as HR business partners. The managers need to demonstrate commitment, conviction, ownership and responsiveness while HR business partners need to demonstrate the influence, assertiveness, consultation and ensure execution and appropriate prioritization of the actions as identified in the HR business partner plan.
4.0 Building business acumen for HR 
Business partners
The building of business acumen for HR business partners is a continual process and is nurtured with sharpening of alignment, mastering of diagnosing and introspecting the HR implications from business scenarios, understanding the inside - outside of the business and being continually engaged with the business.
a) Alignment with the organizational objectives is a very important prerequisite for building the business acumen. The HR Business partners need to align all their actions with the organizational objectives. Each and every communication of HR business partner needs to start with the linkages with the business objectives. The HR actions should reflect as they have been derived from the business objectives and are linked as an outcome of the broad business strategy. HR professionals along with the business need to design & deploy processes which help the employees and managers to assimilate a clear understanding - how their deliverables are aligned and linked with the overall objectives of the organization.
b) Deriving HR implications from business scenarios, capturing the people perspectives and the insights is a powerful mechanism to understand the strategic objectives of the organization. This process needs to be a continual process and the HR business partners have opportunities to strengthen the business acumen. The HR implications needs to be widely communicated and debated with line managers so as to engage and have buy-in of business in driving the people objectives for the business. 
c) Introspecting the perspectives of HR being the Business partners is important as all roles in the organization sustain as long as business sustains. HR professionals needs to build understanding of the business and talk business in their everyday transactions so as to build credibility's of being showcased as business partners by the business managers. 
d) knowing the business, HR business partners need to know the business as much as business managers know their businesses. The HR perspective to any situation or a business problem has to be seen from a business perspective. HR managers need to live business and develop a micro perspective of how the business is doing, what are the challenges, what needs to be done and need to  participate along with line managers in the business reviews and think through the possible HR implications and devise proposals for HR solutions.
e) Inside - Outside of the business includes overall macro business context, business forecast, and shareholder and investors value propositions. The HR business partners need to know the drivers of the business and the same can be achieved by participation in the business reviews, being part of the cross functional team on business projects, structured interactions with business stakeholders including customers and vendors. The understanding of business priorities, challenges shall help the HR business partners to revisit the critical skills, key talents and redefine the organization structures.
f) Engaged with the business, the HR business partners need to be highly engaged with the business, this includes structural and functional engagements. The business engagements shall go a long way in building the business acumen through shadowing the business managers and leaders, walking the talk, promoting the business interests through deeds and words, demonstrating role modelling of values and behaviors, questioning basic assumptions to enhance learning for self and others and demonstrate credibility by understanding business issues.
5.0 Building solid partnerships
Managing connect with the stakeholders, the HR business partners need to manage multiple stakeholders which include internal and external stakeholders. The connect levels with internal & external stakeholders play a very important role in assimilation of the business acumen. The depth and the gravity of connect with strong social relationships helps to build the necessary alignments and support the natural flow of business acumen as required for HR business partners. The HR business partners need to effectively leverage the process of effective usage of social relationships in extraction of the business acumen. The business partnerships are beyond informal collaborations, they flourish beyond responsibility for independent results. The partnerships calls for building sustainable relationships with focus on co creation of shared responsibilities, interdependence on risks, consequences and outcomes and live on shared values and strengths. The strong partnerships are built on values which include perseverance, persistence, transparency, commitment and mutual respect for each other.
The business of HR business partners is all about structured seamless integration of HR roles with the business and this calls for being continuously with the business with an intent of understanding what the business needs and how HR can help the business in achieving the organizational objectives. The quality of engagements with the business on business perspectives, positioning of the partnership quotients with the managers, degree of ownership for HR actions and perseverance with strong passion for results by business managers and credibility of HR business partners as business partners play a catalytical role in the integration and transformation initiatives of HR professionals as HR business partners. The HR business partners have mastered the HR but a lot needs to be done on mastering the business acumen as required for the role in real demonstrations of the business of the HR business partners.