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The HR Business Partner is (Still) the Hottest Job in HR

Many powerful ideas are shaping the jobs of HR professionals and, rightfully so, attracting much attention.

Consider, for example, the impact of network analysis – methodologies to gain insights into social and information-transfer relationships - useful for improving organization effectiveness, enhancing leadership development, understanding inclusion patterns, providing guidance for managing the onboarding process, and other applications.

Another powerhouse discipline affecting jobs in HR is the application of sophisticated people analytics. This is an area where HR has invested and made great strides. The April 2019 HBR article Is HR the Most Analytics-Driven Function? by Tom Davenport, Distinguished Professor of Management and Information Technology at Babson College, highlights the accelerated rate of improvement in HR’s analytical maturity.

There are also other areas where HR jobs are addressing promising ideas such as use of artificial intelligence in talent acquisition processes and in the analysis of employee survey comments, creation of continuous listening strategies to understand and enhance the employee experience, use of new learning platforms to create personalized development paths, and much more. Clearly, these are times bringing growth and challenge to HR.

Nevertheless, despite the emergence of many new and exciting developments influencing the work of HR professionals, one area of HR – the HR business partner role (HRBP) - is still the hottest job in HR. A key feature of the HR service delivery model for decades, the HRBP position, when done well, is a complex, relationship-intensive role. It is responsible for the two most important contributions HR makes to the business:

 (a) building a talent strategy and plan that produces the workforce needed by the business to succeed, and

 (b) delivering multiple appropriate interventions that help leaders provide an employee experience that attracts,  retains and engages people.

Often misunderstood, poorly designed and weakly executed, the HRBP role can be HR’s problem child. Business leaders complain when their assigned HR partner lacks true business understanding, embodies the “I’m from HR and I’m here to help you” bureaucratic, compliance-heavy orientation, or pushes one-size-fits-all HR solutions. Too, leaders in HR Centers of Expertise, Finance and IT business partners also get heartburn when they work with an HRBP who has only a superficial understanding of their discipline, blocks their ability to bring effective expertise and guidance when and where needed, or treats their capabilities as the next bright shiny object, awkwardly pushing externally-driven initiatives on the business unit with no appreciation for organizational context or sound business rationale.

To get an idea of how HRBP’s create value, let’s look at statements of job requirements included in current HRBP vacancy advertisements from Amazon and Providence Health System:

  • Proactively translate business strategies into HR solutions that best enable the organization to meet its strategic objectives
  • Partner with executives to address operational, talent, and talent lifecycle–related issues, including change management, organizational development, culture, employee relations, workforce planning, talent growth, development, and coaching.
  • Coach leaders to enhance their people-leadership capabilities
  • Ensure the quality of HR service delivery through effective collaboration with HR operational services (shared services) and centers of expertise (COE) specialists.
  • Develop and support HR strategies that support the business objectives and partner with international HRBPs on executing on these strategies, including areas such as organizational change, onboarding, performance coaching, training and development, employee relations, and retention.
  • Champion our culture and values, partnering with clients to help them build and retain customer obsessed teams.
  • Diagnose problems, identify appropriate solutions, influence the business leaders with data-driven recommendations, and drive change.
  • Interface effectively with leaders at all levels and apply excellent communication skills, analytical thinking and ability to perform in a fast paced and innovative environment. 


What a fantastic-but-challenging job! This is where the action is, where HR meets the needs of the business and works with the distinctive personalities that lead business units and functions. This is the coalface, the point of HR’s organizational intersect, where stakes are high, where collaborative actions taken can have far-reaching beneficial impact, and where failures have serious consequences for the business and the workforce.

Where do great HR Business Partners come from? At the time of this article, the job site Indeed shows 28,950 HRBP job openings, with nearly 10,000 of those listings being Senior HR Business Partners.

One thing that’s certain - good HRBPs  don’t grow on trees and they don’t come freshly minted from the latest university graduating class. They grow on the job through experience and development.

Recognizing that it is difficult to find people with the capabilities to perform the HRBP role, we at i4cp – the Institute for Corporate Productivity – have drawn upon our studies of the HR organization to produce information and insights that can help with understanding HR roles and upskilling HR talent. In 2016, we produced research on HR organization structure, roles and priorities. In 2018, we released to our membership a research-based virtual   on competencies especially appropriate to the senior HRBP role, which we call the Strategic HR Business Advisor. 

Early this year, to assist organizations with their efforts to upskill HR talent and enable success in the HRBP role, we created development tools focused on the HRBP position. One of these tools is an HR Business Partner development assessment model.

The development model defines six areas of HRBP performance:


  1. Business Acumen - The ability to view a business from the top leader’s perspective, understand core organizational functions and how they interact, and apply financial metrics that reflect the business success of the organization.
  2. HR Knowledge and Expertise - In-depth familiarity with the functions and disciplines of the HR organization and how they work together to provide products and services to executives, managers, and employees.
  3. Relationship and Interpersonal - Skills and abilities used to interact with others effectively across all management levels and job disciplines.
  4. Consulting and Influencing - The capacity to affect the behavior of others in a business setting while successfully providing expert advice, solution options, methods, and tools.
  5. Talent Planning and Risk Management - Skills and ability to ensure the talent requirements of a business are assessed and understood, planned for, and addressed through practical action.
  6. People Analytics - Ability to use statistics, technology, and analytical skills to help managers and executives make informed decisions about employees or the workforce.


The full version of the HRBP model – which includes over 50 performance points - serves as a framework for self-assessment, developmental coaching, and obtaining key relationship feedback through multi-rater feedback. It can be augmented by adding skills or experiences appropriate to a specific role, for example adding content related to international business experience and cultural understanding as performance points for HRBP positions with global scope.

If you are interested in a copy of the i4cp HRBP Development Assessment model, send me an e-mail. There is no cost to you for the model, but we’d love it if you told us (a) how you plan to use it, and (b) what have been the most effective development methods and experiences you’ve employed to upskill HRBPs in your organization.

It’s a great idea to invest HR’s time and energy in learning and applying new and powerful ideas, just don’t lose sight of the need to cultivate and enhance the capabilities of people who occupy one of HR’s most strategic and challenging roles – the HR Business Partner.

Patrick Murray works for i4cp – the Institute for Corporate Productivity. His e-mail is . New to i4cp? Visit us at 

Click here to access the entire series of resources for HRBPs