‘HR’ and ‘business’ are not isolated from one another, anymore. Their tracks are not parallel as before either. The human resource business partner (HRBP) brings the two together for a common objective.
The role of a human resource business partner is a strategic one in the HR function. The primary responsibility an HRBP is to align employee motivation with the larger business goal. It is a more complex role, where HR works closely with the business to get the best out of the people.
Himanshu Gupta had a similar motive when he took on a regional HRBP role at Tata Consultancy Service after passing out of TISS in 2018. Before that, he worked in the business side of the same company for three years. He upskilled to HRBP, a role that allowed him the bandwidth to connect with hundreds of employees.
When and why was HRBP created?
Globalisation of business gave birth to the HRBP role in India. The advent of multinational companies in India pioneered an altogether different organisation structure. For example, GE was one of the first few MNCs to come into India. It has several businesses, such as power, appliances, pharma, finance, and so on under a single umbrella. While certain practices and policies are super arching to cover the entire group, some are group specific because each business operates under unique market conditions.
The compensation structure at GE Financial cannot be the same as that of GE Electricals because the market conditions (competitiveness) are very different. Since each business must survive and thrive in distinct scenarios, they require market-specific HR practices.
TCS runs the business of providing IT services to clients. There are accounts created for it, with each account having several clients. A senior consultant or a delivery partner is the head of each account. Each of these senior consultants is managing a headcount of 300–500 associates. An HRBP oversees two or three such accounts (1000-1200 employees) within the company. It is the work of HRBPs to liase with the delivery partners to understand their HR challenges, gaps in terms of employee connect, talent acquisition requirements, developing succession plans for their high performers, and so on.
“At Amazon, HRBP are responsible for the end-to-end life cycle of employees from the joining date until their last day, within their business lines. The COE function supports the HRBP,” says Deepti Varma, country leader-HR, Amazon India.
Tata Group has an organisation structure similar to that of GE. The first level of reporting of an HRBP is to the CEO. To be able to drive the commonality of HR processes, HRBPs maintain a matrix relation with HR leadership at the centre.
“When I was group president-HR, Essar, the business partners would report to CEOs but for HR, they would have a dotted line relationship with us,” says Adil Malia, chief executive, The Firm.
The role of HRBP
The HR business partners service the people management specific to the business. For instance, they are well researched on the sources of talent acquisition for the business operating under an industry.
Compensation practices also vary from one sector to the other. The salary structure in a finance company and a manufacturing company cannot be the same. “When a CEO drives his business in a particular segment, he requires HR support to be able to make his business forays more effective for the specific segment in which he is operating,” says Malia.
Therefore, an HRBP understands where to source talent from, the compensation practices, the value proposition that the talent would expect from the sector, career growth in that sector as well as training requirements.
“Even if your organisation is a one-product organisation, if its structure is designed as a multi-unit independent profit-centre, then you will need an HR business partner”
Progression from an HRBP role
Two roads can open up— a linear one leading to an HR career from a smaller business of a company to a larger business of the same company, and one that leads to the central HR role. There is also a third option wherein if you become an effective business partner you can become the business head (CEO).
Organisations that require an HRBP
This role is not exclusively for companies that have multiple products. Coca Cola is a one-product company, but if you are operating in different geographies, then you will have a CEO for each business area. It’s a question of how the business is organised. If the business is designed according to the specifics of geography, then the dynamism changes phenomenally with the areas— the talent challenge faced in Kolkata is totally different from that of Mumbai.
“Even if your organisation is a one-product organisation, if its structure is designed as a multi-unit independent profit-centre, then you will need an HR business partner,” adds Malia.
Effective competencies of an HRBP that are different from that of a regular HR person are:
• Business acumen
• Understanding of business plans and scorecards
• Identification of talent and values particular to the sector
• Development and learning needs of the business
• Unique compensation practices of the segment
• Talent retention challenges in the sector
• Building of the entire lather of careers to provide a sense of growth to employees in that segment.
“At Amazon, we have spearheaded an automated, self-service initiative called Hands off the Wheels”
Digital disruption in HRBP roles
Technology in HR has piloted a digital revolution, which has changed the role of an HRBP from merely lending support to actually facilitating/driving the business. While technology takes care of operational work, HRBsP apply themselves to the creation of effective employee experience for their people. Tata Consultancy Service has pioneered new products to adopt technology in the HRBP function. It has a ‘Chatbot’ and ‘Agile HR’ for the day to day HR- related needs of the employees.
The role of HRBP is evolving to be more strategic by eliminating the repetitive tasks that have got automated. The managers at Amazon constantly seek feedback from the employees. This data, when processed with technological tools (machine learning and data algorithms) helps the managers provide better employee experience. Technology is enabling HRBPs to make the right decision.
“At Amazon, we have spearheaded an automated, self-service initiative called ‘Hands off the Wheels’. The real role of HRBPs is to make managers self-sufficient enough to handle the driver’s seat, so that they themselves can take their hands off the wheels,” reveals Varma.