HR business partner model not working

The #1 reason why the HR Business Partner model doesn’t work effectively

 I realised today that it’s 20 years since David Ulrich proposed the HR Business Partner model. Despite this, HR is STILL struggling to prove its net worth to business. How can that be?

We know that HR is more qualified than it’s ever been and there are more opportunities for it to add value. Increasingly companies are also declaring in one breath that they have a HR Business model and in another that HR is not working effectivelyOf .

Why is that?

Of  the HR departments that I have been called in to turnaround, I would classify them, without exception, as departments struggling to have the influence, ability, or vision to be a strategic and operational partner to the business.

The best departments were excellent transactional HR professionals with reasonable operational HR prowess. Some participated in HR Strategy, but were still considered not good enough to have a place on the senior team.

There was often a myriad of reasons for this, organisational culture, view of the CEO or executive team and HR’s ability to influence to name a few. I found, however that the common denominator was often the ability, foresight, and experience of the most senior HR professional within the company.

These individuals were often excellent HR practitioners in so much as they knew the HR function inside out. What they lacked was business sense:

  • The ability to understand the business they were in
  • The ability to understand how business works

I have always found that it is essential that HR professionals have a thorough understanding of their company. This understanding needs to go beyond the knowledge of the company’s vision and mission statement. It’s imperative to know, how and why the company is in existence. You need an intimate knowledge of each departments dependencies, and independencies, its objectives as well as its people and their capability.

HR professionals should also know how a business functions. Too many HR professionals spend time being educated in HR only topics, without understanding marketing, operations and finance to name a few.

This lack of business knowledge often means that HR professionals do not know enough to add to the business. For example, if a business is trying to increase its market share; then the HR professional should be able to have a decent discussion on what the marketing department is trying to achieve. Only after this discussion has been had, can HR be truly effective, in designing people strategies that will enable the marketing department to achieve their objective of increased market share.

In a nutshell then, the HR business partner model struggles to work because HR cannot add to the business discussions taking place around the table. This can mean that HR is often trying to shoehorn effective people strategies onto the business without truly understanding what is needed and whether the timing is right.

What do you think? What else is stopping the business partner model from truly working?

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