6 key skills HR business partners need for future success

4 minute read

Nine in 10 HR practitioners surveyed by Corporate Research Forum have HR business partners. But the role of the HRBP is changing rapidly. In order to be successful in the future, HRBPs will need to develop a new set of capabilities, says Jo Nayler

HR business partner skills

Our most recent research at Corporate Research Forum (CRF) on Reimagining HR Business Partnering considered the future role of the HR business partner (HRBP). We found it is becoming broader, more complex and more challenging. As the business agenda changes at a quicker pace, the need to partner the business effectively is greater than ever before. The HRBP model is also not likely to go away any time soon – over 90% of HR practitioners we surveyed said their organisation still uses the HRBP job title. This is why it will be so important for HRBPs and the HR function to prepare for the future and think about what business partnering success will look like. Our research – taking into account the views of over 200 HR practitioners – found that the following six capabilities will be the ones that future successful HRBPs cannot afford to miss. 

The need to be strategic isn’t new; both the HR function and HRBPs have grappled with ways to increase their strategic impact for decades. However, the need for HRBPs to be strategic will only increase further in the next few years as HR is increasingly called on to support their organisations’ digital transformations– nearly 90% of surveyed HR practitioners think so. Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, will likely streamline some of the more administrative and repetitive HR tasks, creating the opportunity for HRBPs to become more strategic. HRBPs will also need to contextualise centrally set business and people strategies, proactively suggesting ways to adapt strategies when necessary.

HRBPs will need to be skilled in designing and leading change initiatives, displaying courage and the ability to influence stakeholders. Organisations will need to adapt and change to the current dynamic, competitive business market, and HRBPs will need to play a leading role in this transition. Technology will be particularly transformational, impacting the organisation and ways of working; HRBPs will need to oversee this change management process in a way that maintains the employee brand and experience. For example, Generative AI will likely cause jobs to change or become obsolete, as well as create new opportunities, requiring HRBPs to think more about the design of jobs and work.

Over 90% of surveyed HR practitioners thought that being data-oriented will become more important for HRBPs; HRBPs will need to be competent working with data and evidence, integrating it into everything that they do. They will need to go beyond just reporting on data, instead generating insight, making judgements and bringing in predictive trends. Successful HRBPs will also need to take a non-siloed approach that uses data from across the whole organisation (rather than just HR) and advocate for access to more data if necessary.

Inforgraphic of 6 HRBP capabilities

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Successful HRBPs will need to work iteratively, experiment, and be curious. At some organisations, HRBPs will need to apply agile methodologies, though for most this will be more about being agile in their overall approaches. HRBPs will also need to support a flexible user experience customised to different internal populations. Employees increasingly want to be seen as unique individuals, meaning that creating standard policies that apply to everyone will no longer be good enough. HRBPs will need to act as a conduit, listening to employees to better understand how to create more agile, adaptable and personalised policies and practices.

HRBPs will need to understand how their organisation creates value and what HR strategies will support this. This commercial understanding will also provide HRBPs with the credibility to thoughtfully challenge when needed, including identifying what might be missing from commercial strategies. HRBPs will need to understand how people drive value and act as an advocate for the people perspective when needed, especially in an uncertain business context when senior leadership may see people as a cost that can be cut, rather than as a long-term investment.

Some 92% of senior HR leaders think it will become even more important for HRBPs to effectively use and apply technologies in the next few years. HRBPs will therefore need to be deeply aware of the technological landscape and have their finger on the pulse of emerging technologies. They will not only need to understand the potential of AI to make certain HR processes simpler and faster, but also how HR can use AI in decision-making, such as assessing candidates or understanding drivers of employee engagement.

As well as understanding the technological landscape, HRBPs will need to think through where and how technology will change the business, focusing on organisation design, reskilling and change management. They will also need to consider how they can maintain a ‘human touch’ for employees in an age of increasing digitalisation, potentially by focusing on humanising ‘moments that matter,’ such as onboarding or returning from maternity leave.

Our research showed that the above six capabilities will be critical for an HRBP to master if they want to be successful and support business performance in the next few years. However, our research also showed that current HRBP development needs in these capabilities are significant. For every capability above, at least three quarters of senior HR leaders thought their HRBPs required development. For some capabilities, the development need was even higher; 92% of senior HR leaders thought their HRBPs required development in being data-oriented and 91% thought development was needed in being digitally enabled. As the requirements of the HRBP evolve, HR leaders will need to act now to ensure their HRBPs are prepared for future success.

Jo Nayler, pictured below is an HR and organisational development expert and senior research executive at Corporate Research Forum

Jo Nayler CRF

Published 26 July 2023
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