What Is an HR Business Partner?

HR business partners (HRBP) act as liaisons between HR and other business units they’re assigned to. They integrate HR strategies into this separate group and support its people with HR resources. HRBPs are members of the internal HR structure, but they are assigned to represent HR to other units in the business such as departments, individual teams, or the whole company, depending on the size of the business.

HRBPs work primarily with leaders from their assigned group to resolve people-related needs and carry out HR strategies. When the business leader is confronted with a people-related question or issue, they’ll work with their HRBP to resolve the issue. HRBPs also act proactively to keep HR-related problems from arising in their assigned business unit.

HRBPs act as HR consultants for their business leaders. They also act as the conduit to other HR functions, such as talent development or compensation, when situations need to be escalated. They build partnerships with business leaders to help achieve business objectives with their HR perspective and expertise.

Responsibilities of an HR Business Partner

Here are some of the most important responsibilities an HRBP holds.

Apply HR Strategy to Business Strategy

An effective HRBP thoroughly understands the general business strategies of the company as well as the unit they are assigned to. With this knowledge, they do their part to achieve the business’s mission by creating and implementing HR strategies.

For example, if a business unit was focusing on improving productivity, an HRBP could apply HR strategies to increase employee engagement and efficiency. If a business was looking for ways to reduce costs, the HRBP could conduct job analyses and people analytics to discover forms of waste among the workforce.

Respond to HR-Related Business Problems

HRBPs are responsible for handling all HR-related problems existing in their assigned business unit. Managers bring HR situations to their HRBP, who is the subject-matter expert and should know exactly how to respond. HRBPs help in these areas to ensure that managers and other business leaders can focus on their more critical roles and duties.

Many HR departments have separate teams specializing in different HR functions, such as compensation or talent acquisition. At times, HRBPs will escalate problems from their business unit to their department’s HR specialists for additional help. In doing so, the HRBP acts as the liaison between business leaders and the company’s HR department.

Coach Business Leaders

HR isn’t always present. Business leaders need to handle some situations on their own, like responding to immediate conflicts, managing performance, or conducting job interviews. HRBPs coach and advise business leaders for times the leader needs to act on their own.

Coaching can arise as the HRBP approaches the business leader with guidance, or the business leader approaches the HRBP for help. Either way, HRBPs are responsible for helping managers respond to HR situations delicately. Coaching could be on employee compensation, legal compliance, conflict management, or terminations.

Proactively Problem-Solve

HRBPs don’t just respond to problems as they arise; they act proactively to keep problems from happening. They conduct research to identify the needs of their assigned business unit and construct and adapt HR strategies for those needs. Much of this research will come in the form of people analytics, where HRBPs can manipulate historical data to better understand current positions as well as predict potential future problems.

HRBPs who are on top of maintaining a happy and engaged workforce earn the trust of business leaders. This in turn grants HRBPs with a “seat at the table,”—with more freedom and ability to strategize with business leaders to help the organization succeed.

Skills You Need to Be a Great HR Business Partner

Effective HRBPs come with some specific skills and experiences. Here are some that serve as a strong foundation.

1. HR Expertise

HRBPs are the HR subject matter experts among employees and business leaders working in different disciplines. They need extensive knowledge and experience in HR to respond to situations appropriately since no one else in the business unit is expected to do it any better.

2. Business Acumen

HRBPs apply their HR knowledge to the business strategy. To do this most effectively, they need a strong understanding of how the business works and what matters most to the business. Many employers seek out HRBPs who have past work experience in business functions or education in business administration. The dual perspective in HR and business allows HRBPs to weigh alternative solutions appropriately and better earn the trust of their business leaders.

“Rule number one for me is to truly understand how the business you support really works. How do they make money? Who are their customers? What are the current growth plans and business challenges? Then, ask the same questions within each functional area, because those are your internal customers. Know what they worry about and what they feel their strengths are. Finally, what expectations do they have for you as their HR support?” — Milly Christmann

3. Leadership and Coaching

HRBPs are the HR leaders on their assigned business unit. They lead and guide business leaders in carrying out HR-related tasks and initiatives. They also need coaching skills to help their business leaders respond appropriately to HR-related problems.

4. Data Literacy

People analytics is an important part of being a proactive and strategic business leader. Experience in data tools such as Excel is crucial to conduct predictive analytics to move your business forward.