HR Business Partners and Centers of Expertise


HR Business Partners and Centers of Expertise

HR Organization

HR is at a turning point. For a decade now, it has been undergoing a process of transformation. But for many organizations, this process has increasingly failed to produce the results expected of it. During these times of rapidly changing economics, HR is faced with a stark choice: It can either evolve and make a significant contribution to the business or be diminished and dispersed into the business and other functions. Implementing an effective business partnering and Centers of Expertise model is one way to accelerate the evolution of your HR function.

Business-driven HR Business Partners and Centers of Expertise

Many organizations struggle to understand how HR Business Partners and Centers of Expertise should interact to contribute to the business. In particular, the way both roles are structured and positioned can be a fundamental challenge. There is value in bringing together HR Business Partners and Centers of Expertise to operate like a business-focused internal HR consultancy on specific projects and initiatives.

In this model, HR Business Partners form the vertical ‘go to market’ account management teams, with Centers of Expertise forming the horizontal specialist teams. Overlaying this, organizations are developing strategic capability areas (or ‘propositions’) in alignment with specific business priorities. These capabilities respond to critical long-term strategic organizational capabilities (e.g., M&A activity, change acceleration, culture change, talent, and growth). For example, a leading global financial services organization allocates HR Business Partners as project managers on M&A integration projects for a particular length of time before rotating them onto the next business project. They reach out to their Centers of Expertise teams for specific support on an as-needed basis. These Centers of Expertise teams then form solution ‘SWAT’ teams which can be focused on the strategic priorities of the business.

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What this means for HR Business Partners

The skills make the difference. HR Business Partnering empowers highly competent, credible “account managers” operating at senior levels of the organization to orchestrate solutions designed to solve organizational priorities. To achieve this, it is critical that the business recognize the HR Business Partner is a serious contributor. Only when the business partner can initiate a strategic conversation with business leaders, armed with potential solutions, will he or she be thought of as a strategic player. The HR Business Partner role should, therefore, concentrate on the following:

  • Focusing on strategic issues that contribute to the growth and competitiveness of the business
  • Taking a big picture perspective regarding the organization's priorities and goals
  • Having the personal impact and credibility to influence critical decision makers
  • Being the diplomat and negotiator to align the agendas of the business and the HR function
  • Having the breadth of knowledge of the services and solutions offered by the Centers of Expertise
  • Being excellent project and account managers with demonstrated knowledge of the business

What this can mean for Centers of Expertise

Alignment to business challenges. If HR is to meet the needs of the business, it needs to move away from traditional, functionally aligned roles to business-aligned roles that can reflect the projects and programs that the business is focused on.

With alignment on solutions for business challenges like M&A, talent management, absenteeism, organizational change, and others, the Centers of Expertise can engage more with the business by having a naturally common ground upon which to forge relationships.

This does not mean the end of traditional Reward, Benefit and Learning Centers of Expertise, but it does require HR organizations to rethink the way they provide support support for both functional and business focused needs.

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