HR as Strategic Business Partners

In most organizations today, the Human Resource (HR) professional works in a highly matrixed environment, often with multiple decision-makers and stakeholders. They meet the needs and challenges of the business, with HR roles that are highly specialized, and provide expertise in such key areas as:

  • Learning & Development
  • Workforce Planning
  • Talent Acquisition
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Culture, Engagement & Career Management
  • Organization & Job Design
  • Performance Management
  • Compensation
  • Succession Planning.


Other HR capabilities typically provide excellence in service delivery, with reporting and support through technology and analytics.

One of the most important capabilities however, is for HR to operate more strategically and proactively. By strategic we mean that significant time and resources are focused optimizing workplace performance in order to maximize the results of the organization. HR must be accountable not for what they do but for the results they are providing and the value they add to the business.

For HR to operate strategically, they need resources that have broader mandates. These resources are called HR Business Partners and contribute to the overall success of Business Human Resources activities. They ensure business strategies, plans and initiatives are executed and delivered in compliance with governing regulations, internal policies and procedures.

HR Business Partners collaborate with middle and senior managers, developing a deep knowledge of the business requirements and challenges these individuals face. Identifying and collaborating with these key decision-makers is critical for successful outcomes. HR Business Partners support strategic projects that directly address one or more of the business needs of the organization.

All of HR, and most specifically HR Business Partners, need to employ a Performance Consulting model that ensures they are closing the performance gaps as they relate to the business needs of their business partners.

The HR Business Partners demonstrate competence in many ways.…. through their performance consulting questioning skills with their clients; through their business acumen or knowledge and understanding of the business; and through their ability to translate business needs into performance requirements and people initiatives.

A key concept that is integral in becoming a strategic HR Business Partner is clarifying the nature of strategic work and the importance of being involved in strategic initiatives. HR functions typically support three kinds of work: transactional, tactical, and strategic. Although an HR Business Partner may perform all three kinds of work, it is critical that much of their work be strategic in nature. The HR Business Partners therefore are expected to off-load the more transactional tasks and on-load more strategic work.

Another key concept is that HR Business Partners must engage with their clients to help define and align the needs of the organization regarding specific business strategies and goals. In their book, Performance Consulting: A Strategic Process to Improve, Measure and Sustain Organization Results, Robinson & Robinson identify four kinds of needs that must be defined and aligned:

  1. Business Needs
  2. Performance Needs
  3. Organizational Capability Needs
  4. Individual Capability Needs

The HR Business Partner’s performance consulting approach assists their business clients to identify those needs which are not being met and then work collaboratively to close the gaps between what is required and what is actually happening

By following a Performance Consulting model, the HR Business Partner is more strategic and effective at identifying and recommending solutions to close the performance gaps. More importantly, this allows the HR Business Partner to develop access, credibility and trust with their business leaders and ultimately earning the right to “sit at the table” with their clients. HR Business Partners who work in this way contribute to the formation of business strategies, integrating and executing HR initiatives in support of the organization’s business plan.

FKA President
Michael Nolan