Engineering the next generation of HR Business Partners

Written by
Changeboard Team

18 Jan 2012

18 Jan 2012 • by Changeboard Team

The future of HR

What does the future hold for those university students and graduates who are considering HR as a profession? What will inspire them about the work of HR or give them hope that it will lead to a fruitful and engaging career?

The new role of HR

Increasing numbers of companies are pursuing the so-called Ulrich model and splitting HR almost into three professions with their own career paths - business partners, specialist delivery roles and transactional roles. This makes sense from a quality of service and cost-effectiveness angle and certainly delivers improved business results, but what does it mean for the career routes of those just entering HR?

Will you be able to cross over from one HR stream to the next at will as you develop your career, or are the three paths separated by both skills and mind-set? The evidence from my recent assignments suggests that while a combination of transactional, specialist and generalist experience is still occasionally desirable, increasingly these streams are distinct and deep experience in one is required.

Being commercial is key

What does this mean for how new HR people enter the profession and progress to become business partners? Will they have to choose one path or another? Can they even start off in the business partner stream anymore, except as a generalist in an SME?

With an increasing emphasis on commercial skills and knowledge of the business, HR business partners will increasingly need experience of other disciplines such as business management, marketing or communications. So maybe some of the HRBPs of the future will come from other professions, making the shift mid-career. Maybe...

What does this mean for new employees?

However, if the age of the generalist (who has experienced all three streams) is nearly over in larger organisations, it is time to develop some new career paths that combine business experience with structured experience of several HR disciplines. Graduate fast-track programmes are ideal for this and those candidates with an aptitude for HR management could be spotted early on. After a range of broad business experience they could be given more focused experience in HR roles from reward to case management before being given their first business partner role.

A broad range of business experiences combined with a structured rotation around several HR roles would certainly provide a supply of well-rounded, commercial HR people. Without this, I am not sure how the demand for sufficient commercial HRBPs will be met.

Should the organic approach to HR careers of yesterday be replaced with a more engineered one? It’s certainly an option and I’d welcome your opinions and views.