HR Business Partners or not

Which job roles will change/be created/cease to exist in 2018?  There are lots of predictions on this.  See, for example, MIT’s thoughts on five roles that will see increasing numbers of people required to fill them.   Or the BBC’s  ‘will your job be automated?’ predictor – where you enter your job title and it gives the automation likelihood.  The page is dated 2015 so I suspect the likelihood of some of the jobs listed being automated is increasing.  A more recent (March 2017) paper from PWC reports ‘Specifically, based on our own preferred, methodology, we found that around 30% of jobs in the UK are at potential high risk of automation and around 38% in the US.’   Generally, there’s as much dissension as agreement on what jobs will be automated.   Where researchers do seem to have agreement is that the work  ‘that taps into our social drives’ will not be automated. Andrew McAfee, one of MIT’s academics and IT expert, says:  I just don’t see anyone, even really great innovators, coming up with technologies that could just substitute for the people who are currently doing those very, very social jobs.

A job that I’ve been looking at over the last several weeks is the HR Business Partner role.  It doesn’t seem to be on any automation list, so it may be a social job, but, depending on whose view you are reading, it is predicted to:

Grow stronger,  but only if the role is ‘strategic’ HR partner which is currently ‘at best unquantified, at worst ill-defined and poorly understood.’

Grow weaker, as the roles ‘evolve from the initial concept of HRBPs to a new generation of HR roles that will help the function formerly known as Human Resources better contribute to the deployment of the business strategy, bring more value to the organisation, and take advantage of the possibilities offered by technological innovation.’

Change, because ‘business partners have become so embedded in the business and so distanced from central HR that they’ve taken the business’s typically much more short-term-orientated demands to heart to the extent of ignoring or overriding the overall business need for strategic change.’

Die, because ‘HR doesn’t seem to think of itself as an integral component of the business. HR people are not even trained anymore to understand the mechanics of business at work.’

This is all very confusing – particularly if you are an HR Business Partner, someone who thinks they’d like to be an HR Business Partner, an HR Leader re-designing their operating model, an employee wondering what products and services to expect from HR, a CEO deciding whether or not to ‘give HR a seat at the table’ (8 million google responses on the inquiry ‘HR seat at the table’), a consultant advising on the yes/no/maybe of HR BPs in an HR operating model.

Or perhaps it is not so much confusing as complex.  Because there isn’t a right answer.  And this is the one thing that the various writers and researcher on this topic agree on.  They all are of the view, exemplified in this comment from the CIPD that ‘there is not one model for delivering HR that is suited to all organisations.  How an organisation should structure is HR functions depends on its organisational strategy, wider organisational structure and the requirements of its customers and the organisation it is supporting.’

In considering the merits, or not, of an HR BP role, each HR leader with his/her colleagues has to work out first what’s best, or at least ‘good enough’ operating model for the combination of factors in their particular circumstances, and then whether or not HR Business Partners feature in the delivery of the operating model.

One place to start determining the right HR model for your organisation is to read through the differing perspectives presented in the UK’s CIPD paper Changing Operating Models. It’s 3 years old (February 2015) but a lot of it is still relevant and points to still to be explored aspects of HR including models for networked organisations.  And it contains a piece from Dave Ulrich, attributed with introducing the HR BP model.

Another place to start is the IES White Paper, (2015) HR Business Partners: Yes Please or No Thanks. In this one there is the common-sense suggestion that to get to the ‘right answer’ on both HR operating model design and HR BPs ‘What we probably need instead is better internal dialogue between stakeholders on what the optimum balance might be between HR’s role and line managers’ responsibilities. HR for its part needs to consider its structure in the light of this debate’.

Specifically, on HR Business Partners the IES notes that: ‘whilst organisations have to decide whether business partners are worth the investment, they also have to settle on their conception of the role and make sure it fits business needs, manager requirements and their own staff capability. If this critical thinking is not done there is the probability of continuing customer and colleague frustration and frequent questioning of the value of the role.’

What’s your view on the HR BP role?  Let me know.

Image: What do applicants say about your firm?

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