4 steps hrbp hero

The 4 HR Business Partner Role Levels

As HR functions contemplate organizing, upskilling, and expanding their HR Business Partners (HRBPs), a question frequently asked is what is common practice in levelling HRBP roles?

Based on conversations with hundreds of professionals who have participated in i4cp’s HR Business Partner Development Assessment process, here is what we have observed.

Major influences on the HRBP role

The types of HRBPs found in organizations is influenced by two factors. First is the size and complexity of the organization—large organizations with complex structures usually have more levels of HRBP, each being a step up in scope of responsibility and required qualifications.

The second influential factor lies in the expectations HR and business leaders have for the HRBP role. Business leaders who want a strategic partnership with HR have higher, more demanding expectations of their HRBPs in terms of breadth of business experience, leadership abilities, and HR knowledge and understanding. Business leaders who do not view a strategic HR presence and partnering relationship as critical may limit what HRBPs can contribute and demand less from their HRBPs, which affects the level of HRBP role required.

HRBP levels

The descriptions below describe four levels of experience and responsibility typical of the HRBP job family. How many levels of the HRBP role an organization chooses to use in its structure and what job title is assigned to each level varies from organization to organization. (This can make cross-organization comparison of HRBP levels based on job title somewhat unreliable, however our interviews show wide agreement on the type of work HRBPs do regardless of title.)

While some HRBPs supervise other HR staff, most do not. For purposes of defining distinctions between levels, people management (supervising other people) responsibility is not the primary basis for making the level determination. When a supervisory arrangement is present, more senior HRBPs supervise lower level HRBPs.

Level I HRBP

The first level of HRBP is an advanced (experienced) HR generalist who has been assigned to support a particular part of the organization.

  • Has employees and managers as primary contacts.
  • At this level, the HRBP may work as part of a small team or work solo. Major responsibilities are focused on supporting more senior HRBP and specialist staff from COEs, participating effectively in employee life cycle events – onboarding, performance planning, delivering required training, etc.
  • They also communicate and ensure employees and managers understand company HR policies and practices. They help employees and managers access the personal and organizational HR information they need for decision-making and follow-up.
  • Level I HRBPs often work in coordination with an employee services center to assist with enrollments, records and reports, and related problem-solving.

Some organizations may choose to not use the Level I HRBP role.


The Level II HRBP typically has:

  • Broader experience with a wide array of HR practices—talent acquisition, learning & development, performance assessment, rewards, etc. They understand how HR policies and practices are applied, including how to work across HR disciplines and functions to deliver support to the organizations and workforce they support.
  • Employees, managers, and directors as primary contacts.
  • An awareness of business fundamentals (how a business makes money) and an interest in understanding the specific components of the business or function they support – its products and services, customers/competitors, market trends and dynamics, etc.
  • The ability to form relationships across organizational levels to coach and advise based on expertise, personal credibility, and trust.
  • Solid data-gathering and problem-analysis capability—proactively applies judgment to solving both HR issues and business problems.
  • Advanced written and oral communication abilities.
  • Understanding of data analytics—when and how to use.

Many organizations use this level as their primary HR Business Partner.


This level HRBP:

  • Has as greater work experience overall, as well as years of experience in the HRBP role. For example, this level of HRBP has been through and participated an organization’s business planning process—strategic plan, annual plan, tactical plans—for several cycles.
  • Has VPs and Directors as primary contacts.
  • Directs (and may help design) critical talent processes for her/his assigned part of the organization, providing both facilitation of the process as well as knowledge and insight. Understands the people being discussed, assessment and development approaches, etc. and how they impact the business/function.
  • Is assigned larger or more complex business units or functions.
  • Has formed candid, mutually respectful relationships with senior executives.
  • Is viewed as a leader in the business and function, providing strategic and practical insight and guidance – a co-creator of approaches and solutions to important talent and business challenges.

For some organizations, the Level III HRBP is the most senior HRBP role.


This most senior level of the HRBP role:

  • Is found generally only in large, complex organizations.
  • Is assigned to critical (e.g., most important from a strategic perspective, highest risk, etc.) parts of the organization.
  • Has top level executives (GMs, EVPs, SVPs) as primary contacts.
  • Typically has business experience gained though roles outside of HR.
  • Is expected to possess an advanced level of business acumen – knowledge of widely used and -organization or industry-unique business models, customer/market, understanding of operations supported, etc.
  • Is expected to display a sophisticated level of leadership through influence and relationships.
  • May supervise other HRBPs in a unit or geography aligned team or pod structure.

Titling for HRBPs at this level frequently includes vice president (e.g., Vice President and HR Business Partner, Telecommunications Sector).

Reporting relationship

HRBPs in smaller-sized organizations usually report to the head of the HR function. In larger organizations, HRBPs typically report to an HR VP who reports to the head of the HR function.

HRBP Structure Trends

i4cp research on HR structure trends shows that while most organizations are centralizing the vast majority of their people functions, the HR business partner role remains an outlier with more than 60% serving in stand-alone units, far more than any other function, to best align with and support the needs of respective functions, units, and/or geographies.