Harnessing the Force of Strategic HR Business Partners

For those of us who have grown up with Star Wars, we know what it means to harness a powerful energy that exists in all lifeforms. Forty years and nine billion box-office dollars later, we have an epic space-opera media franchise that illustrates what it takes to select, develop and use “the Force” to transform an empire. Today’s organizations would be wise to seek out their own “Imperial Special Forces” talent on the HR team.

As we begin a new decade of digital disruption, HR organizations are busy performing benchmarks and setting targets with the goal of building the most efficient, most empowered and most engaged workforce possible. Much like the Jedi, guardians of peace and justice in the Galactic Republic, HR Business Partners (HRBPs) are your powerful front-line talent, as defined by the Ulrich model for HR efficiency. HRBPs serve and defend the business with agility, bringing resources to confront a galaxy of obstacles, and ensure the workplace is thriving with talent and efficiency. 

However, deploying simply cloud tools and giving your HR generalists a new job title does not turn them into HRBPs any more than handing someone a lightsaber makes them a Jedi Knight. Today’s HRBPs are still distracted by time spent supporting administration, remediating the past, and reporting outcomes rather than using data spot trends, assessing risk, predicting and prioritizing workforce needs and strategies.  

As we begin 2020, organizations need to harness the force of HRBPs to contribute insights and address today’s greatest business challenges. Here are five steps to put you in motion:

  1. Diagnose the demands on HRBP time. Establish a baseline that describes how HR efforts are distributed today. Industry staffing ratios will reveal little more than whether you appear to be over- or understaffed. Work breakdown estimates that can be aligned to the activities and roles in a future-state operating model are far more informative. This analysis helps uncover activities that need to be stopped, automated or allocated to shared services or specialist roles (such as recruiters).
  2. Leverage technology. Cloud systems, automation technologies and software suites with portals and workflow are all designed to eliminate tactical work and create a fluid experience. Automation is redefining the work of HRBPs and is expected to displace more than half of traditional HRBP activities. “You must unlearn what you have learned” is some of Yoda’s best leadership advice. HRBPs must prepare themselves to take on a role that is largely undefined, unmeasured, and different from one place to the next.
  3. Empower others. Fear of losing control or becoming irrelevant prevents many HR professionals from embracing change – whether it is reducing layers of approval for manager transactions or redirecting employee inquiries to self-service and shared services channels. HRBPs must learn to trust that their value extends far beyond pointing to policies and updating records. Popular Yoda wisdom says “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” This should reassure HRBPs that trading in an HR-first mindset for an enterprise-first mindset is the right path to take if you seek to embed yourself in the business to drive value.
  4. Assess and upskill your talent. As HR expands shared services and sharpens the duties expected of its HRBPs and centers of expertise, there is an increased interest in assessing aptitude and experience of the HR team. Too often, leadership retitles its HR generalists without changing their day-to-day work. Reposting positions or adjusting salaries may be necessary as part of streamlining the operating model. Regardless of method, optimizing HR now means identifying those who have an aptitude for joining the Jedi ranks and are able to learn with every experience.
  5. Lead change with conviction. The coming decade of disruption will bring a new paradigm to the workplace. A young Jedi protégé who admits to Yoda that he does not believe he can accomplish something he has never seen done is told simply “That is why you fail.” In words taken from 8 Great Life Teachings from Yoda, “stop focusing on the negative and commit.” As important as the buy-in is itself, HRBPs must understand and embrace the significance of the journey at hand.

This year is the dawn of the digital decade. Five generations of employees and managers coexist in the workplace today. And, thanks to 40 years of George Lucas and Disney, most of us can relate to the dire need to find, train and deploy employees who can harness the force and make meaningful and magnanimous change for the sake of a better tomorrow. Seek out the HRBPs ready to harness the force of digital transformation with the spirit of a natural born Jedi.

Join me and other industry experts at the ISG Future Workplace Summit March 9-10 in New York City and contact us to discuss how ISG can help you develop and support your HRBPs for a more vibrant, strategic HR organization.

About the author

With more than 25 years of industry and consulting experience, Julie is an invaluable advisor for enterprises needing to evaluate and assess alternatives for multi-process HR service delivery, including workforce administration, payroll, benefits, compensation, recruiting, technology, learning, and talent management. Julie leads complex global HR assessments and transactions around the world. Prior to joining ISG, Julie worked for nearly a decade as an independent consultant, providing market research, vendor assessments, systems testing and implementation consulting to a broad community of benefits administration vendors and human resources departments. Julie started her career in human resources outsourcing, establishing shared service centers for a national benefits consulting and administration firm. She is a well-published thought leader in her field.