Five shortfalls of the HR business partner model

3 minute read

The HR business partner has been around for more than 20 years and yet we seem to think this is all we need. But HRBP is just one step on the journey to maximising organisational success and not the destination. The HR entrepreneur is the next step, says Chris Roebuck

Sian Harrington

Are HRBPs aligned to strategic objectives?

Search Google for HR business partner and you get 208 million results. That’s 50 million more than for chief human resources officer. Two decades after 'the founder of modern HR' Dave Ulrich introduced the concept into HR vernacular, the HR business partner (or HRBP for short) is ubiquitous and Ulrich's model (below) has been widely adopted.

Yet, Chris Roebuck says, oftentimes HR seems to think being an HRBP is an end in itself, rather than just one part of the drive towards organisational success. He should know. As an honorary visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School in London and a former HR director in both the private and public sectors, Roebuck has overseen the introduction of HRBP roles into organisations as well as visiting many companies across the world that have also done so. Drawing on that experience, below Roebuck outlines the five shortfalls he commonly finds.

Dave Ulrich model


  1. Capability shortfalls
    The implementation of the HRBP role often reveals critical shortfalls in key areas needed to be effective, in particular around how good is the HRBP’s understanding of the real drivers of organisational success and how forward-thinking is the HRBP
  2. Reactive not proactive
    The HRBP usually exists to serve the client, ie the internal customer, but all too often that means waiting for the client to approach them rather than taking an active approach
  3. Not focusing on real value because of unaligned requests
    There is a risk that the client’s requests are based on activity that is not aligned to the strategic goals. Therefore the HRBP will be doing work that is unaligned to strategic objectives. This, says Roebuck, could be up to 25% of what the HRBP is asked to do. “HRBPs are being dragged down into the grass and not focusing on things that add real value because the client is not asking for them,” he says
  4. Assumed not real need
    There can be an assumption about what needs to be done rather than what the real need is. Take projects. An HRBP may take the project in isolation, so when it fails that HRBP will look at the reasons behind the failure for that individual project. Yet only about 30% of initiatives are ever effectively implemented. The HRBP needs to look at the symptoms across the business rather than taking an isolated view
  5. Inappropriate solutions
    There is a tendency to give the internal customer ‘best practice’. This is not always what the customer needs or wants. Instead HRBPs should be delivering best current outcome.

According to Roebuck, it's time for the HRBP to take the next step on the journey and become an HR entrepreneur. An HR entrepreneur can not only impact HR but also the wider organisation by covering the above shortfalls.

HR business partner shorfalls

Chris Roebuck shares his practical insights and tools to commercialise your HR function in our video masterclass series here

Published 27 June 2018
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