What Makes a Great HR Partner Great?

  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Subscribe to this entry
  • Print

Believe it or not, there was a time Human Resources was not included in the direction of a company; us old timers remember those dark ages. The department ran payroll, administered benefits, scheduled interviews, and helped with terminations – and was even sometimes referred to as the "Principal's Office."

However, since the 1990s, the role of HR Business Partner has been evolving and is now firmly established and well understood within the HR function. What is less well understood is what it takes to be an exceptional, high performing HR Business Partner. What are the skills, knowledge, and attributes of the best of the best? What is the difference that makes the difference between the best and the rest? In other words, what makes a great HR Partner great?

According to a study by Head Heart + Brain, the best HR Business Partners share the same 5 characteristics.

Self Belief
The Business Partners interviewed believed deeply in the function and its value to the strategic agenda of the business. The saw themselves as equals partners with their business leaders in driving success through the "people agenda." They consistently defined their purpose in terms of their contribution to strategy and business performance.

The best HR Business Partners also had profound confidence in their own skills and their ability to use them to make the right things happen in the business.

Every one of the participants in the study described a willingness, or in some cases even, an obligation, to have an independent point of view. Having an opinion alone, however, is not enough. Participants also consistently described the need to have the courage to express their point of view even at the risk of being unpopular.

The ability to have and hold on to an independent opinion was described as one of the attributes most likely to earn the respect of their clients and enable them to build the depth of relationships required to be powerfully influential.

Knowing the Business
The participants in the study could articulate and understand the strategy and key drivers of success. They had a focus of the competition and deep understanding of their industry or sector (not necessarily referring to HR – but rather the industry their company was a part of). They knew how their piece of the business interfaced with the rest of the organization.

They consistently mentioned the need to think and communicate in business terms and to focus on business outcomes and results, not on HR processes and jargon.

The group constantly referred to the importance of their relationships and described how they invested heavily in building strength, depth, and trust in their relationships with others. They did not focus on client relationships alone, but recognized the need for equally strong relationships with colleagues across the HR function.

They described having been able to make a difference and get things done as a result of the strength of their relationships.

One HR
The HR Business Partners interviewed shared a common focus on delivering quality business outcomes. They had fully embraced the change within their function and held themselves accountable for delivering results through others in HR. They took responsibility for influencing the corporate HR agenda to meet the needs of their clients, but also took responsibility for educating their clients about the importance of the corporate HR agenda.

A strong track record of delivering the right results for the business was the other factor in earning the respect and trust of the business clients.

- Excerpted from "The Success Profile for HR Business Partners", Head Heart + Brain, 2004

Remember: Being a great HR Business Partner has very little to do with HR. Those we support expect us to have the HR expertise; what they don't expect is how we can step up to be a holistic player in the organization – and to help bridge the gap between understanding and conveying the value of good employees and how they significantly impact the business.


  • No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest January 22 2018