How to demonstrate the value of HRBPs (human resource business partners)

September 20th, 2022

Last week, the Josh Bersin Academy hosted its first Voices from the Field event for members, where nearly 200 attendees gathered virtually to discuss the role of the strategic HR business partner.

Jill Larsen, Josh Bersin Academy senior faculty, joined members Troels Wendelbo of Lego Group and Adele Aharanoff of The Well for a lively conversation and a Q&A with attendees. The event was a resounding success and a great showcase of this community, and we wanted to share out a few of the key insights we discussed during our hour together! Read on for a summary, and check out our online course for HRBPs and anyone who wants to become more strategic in the HR work, too.

Advice for human resource business partners: key questions and answers from our event

1. How can we help our leaders see the strategic value of HRBPs?

Rather than becoming frustrated that business leaders don’t see the strategic value of the HRBP role, we can claim its value and educate others about it. The single largest expense in most organizations is employee payroll, and the HRBP role is working to maximize the value of that investment by aligning employee development with business goals. It is a strategic role by nature. We simply need to better tell the story of why.

2. How is the HRBP role different from the COE role?

Actually, it's not! Both roles seek to move the business forward by identifying opportunities for increased impact. Don’t worry about the title; just focus on finding impactful actions that benefit the organization.

3. What is the best background for coming into the HRBP role?

Depending on the role within the business, start by identifying what the business partner needs. Is the function seeking to expand its understanding of their activity, for example, deepening employee engagement in the finance function? A T-shaped background with experience in many different roles can fit well here. Is the function seeking to specialize in one deep activity, e.g., sales seeking to build relationships with clients? In that case, a background in in sales and marketing fits. All this to say: it depends! The main criteria for everyone is to have a deep knowledge of the business overall, and the function in particular that one is seeking to help.

4. In a global HRBP role, should you focus on regional differences?

The panelists agreed it was important not to overthink this point. The best approach is to focus both on finding the common core of what the organization seeks to develop in all if its people, and then of course apply that to the specific locale. It’s easy to become too disconnected if you don’t focus on both the big picture and the regional specifics, but this balance should come naturally.

5. Given that currently there is no "rule book" for this relatively new title, how does one develop in the role?

When considering this question, the presenters stressed developing flexibility to prepare to work with the differing needs of partners, but also the need to stretch yourself by taking on developmental challenges. Often, the complex problems HRBPs must deal with require courage and a willingness to risk and try new approaches. If you challenge yourself to continue growing, you'll be more attuned to what it takes to solve these stickier issues for your organization.

6. To what extent is the role operational versus strategic?

This isn't an eithor/or, according to the presenters. Rather, they argued that HRBPs must be both. How strategic or operational the role is on a given day depends on the problem being solved, and most problems will call for both aspects: the overall strategy as well as the detailed operational solutions.

7. Are there any particular metrics that help prove the value of the role?

Here the presenters mentioned employee engagement, although they also pointed out that even if your engagement scores are high, it's important to dig deeper into the data. In one organization with high overall engagement scores, for example, it turned out diverse employees were giving much lower scores, thus pointing to a key area for improvement when analyzing the metrics on a more granular level. Another strong metric is retention: one can always document the cost of losing an employee and bringing a new one on board to show the financial value of engagement.

Thanks again to our panelists and to the members who joined us and participated in the discussion. We look forward to seeing you at the next one!

To learn more and attend upcoming members-only events, join the Josh Bersin Academy today.


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