What is an HR Business Partner Anyway?

I recently had breakfast with two business leaders I’ve known for a minute. As we were talking, the topic of HR as a career choice was brought up. It gets brought up a lot, usually with something along the lines of being asked if I was dropped on my head as a child. At any rate, both of these leaders made a statement that I consider a great compliment. They said I wasn’t like most HR people they have worked with or known. Now as I type that I realize I need to go in and clear out my Google Drive because I only have so much space for email storage and the angry letters are about to start pouring in. But hear me out here.

HR is a function within an organization. HR’s function, like most any other function within the said organization, is to ensure the organization’s success. I think we would all agree that this is, or at least should be, the goal of any HR person, but unfortunately, we don’t always act that way. We have to first and foremost think like any other operational function of the business. If you are in HR and the first word out of your mouth when you hear something outside of the box is “no” (or some variation), you need to consider if you are a business partner or a paper pusher. Are you pushing the organization forward or are you protecting yourself by playing it safe?

Let’s do a little role play: put yourself in the shoes of the CEO when asked the importance of HR. Will he say “oh no, we need them to ensure we get, keep, and grow the best talent, “ or will he say “yeah, I need HR because otherwise, the employee files would be a mess!” Would she say “our managers rely heavily on our HR team to ensure we are doing the right thing for our employees and our company, thus freeing them up to focus on running the business,” or would she say “HR is a necessary evil.”

A title within HR that seems to have taken hold recently is “HR Business Partner.” It is typically a position that calls for someone with some advanced learning and experience, but what really gets me is the title. HR Business Partner. Why in Sam Hill do we have to create a title for something that we all should be doing anyway?? A Part-time HR File Clerk you hired from a work-study program from High School should be just as much a Business Partner as the head of the HR Department.

As a side note, I talked more about titles and my opinion of them in general in my book “But, But, I’m Good with People” (for those of you keeping count – that is a shameless plug). It is available on Amazon (ding! Another shameless plug!).

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