HR Business Partner Model – fan or critic? – HR Business Breakfast

March 23, 2015

On 21st April over one hundred HR executives attended Harvey Nash HR’s annual business breakfast, at the Belfry Hotel.

As recruitment professionals who specialise within the HR market, the Harvey Nash HR Team has seen big changes in the structure, style and impact of HR over the years. This has been hugely influenced by the emergence of David Ulrich’s HR model – often seen as the modern approach to HR. We are asked by clients to recruit Business Partner roles with salaries ranging anywhere from £35k to £90k, so clearly how companies approach the BP model varies hugely. So in one of our (frequent) light bulb moments we thought why not discuss it with our network, and pose the question ‘are you a fan or a critic?’ (And what better way to do so than over breakfast at the Belfry!)

As expected, the topic generated a real palpable interest, which resulted in a room jam-packed with over 100 senior HR professionals all keen to have their say, as well as hear the views of our panel:

Liz Phillips – Director of Resourcing & ER for Mitchells & Butlers

Stuart Branch – Group HR Director for Weetabix

Julie Stayte – Chief HR Officer for Volkswagen Financial Services UK

Here are the main points that I picked up from the event:

Whilst our three speakers were from diverse industry sectors, they all seemed to be fighting the same battle; the need to evolve their HR functions in order to keep up with the fiercely changing nature of business. The reality is that HR professionals must integrate more deeply into the business. Not only to enable a more effective HR service, but also to be able to contribute to the strategic plan previously decided by the senior management team. Since implementing the HRBP model at Weetabix, Stuart Branch quoted the thoughts of his CMO who claimed that ‘HR has moved forwarded 10 years in the past 2’. For all of the panelists the people strategy shaped by the introduction of the HRBP model has been an essential development of HR to ensure business success.

Whilst there was definitely an overriding lean to the strengths of the HRBP model during the discussion, challenges of the model did crop up during the event. A key stumbling block appeared to be around strategic capability and style, as the panel pondered whether the HRBP model meant truly stepping away from what Julie Stayte described as the ‘Tea, Coffee and Tissues’ element of HR, an approach that would still on occasion be required in the progressive HRBP world. Are some HR professionals too ensnared in operational generalist and transactional work to be able to function as true strategic HR Business Partners? Do HR Business Partners actually need traditional HR skills? It was agreed that commercial awareness and business acumen were key, but could these skill-sets be outsourced from other areas of the business…? This debate moved us nicely into the panel Q&A session.

Perhaps what I, (relatively new to the HR world) found so interesting was this question surrounding the future of HR. What is, (to quote Stuart Branch) ‘The North Star of HR’? Our panelists discussed this concept with an interesting veracity, suggesting that perhaps the utopic consequence of the HRBP model is that HR as a function will cease to exist. This suggestion clearly divided the audience. After all, is this a feasible possibility when the business world remains in a constant state of flux?

However, with the above discussed, there was still a prevailing murmur amongst us as we networked; ‘Where were the true critics?’ Is it simply because HR cannot see an alternative to the HRBP model in a world where everyone is desperate to champion the changing market? Alternatively, is there still a way for HR to drive success without it? We’d love to know your thoughts!

Photos: Our photographer was on the ground to catch the event in pictures.

On behalf of all the Harvey Nash HR team, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that joined us for what proved to be a truly thought provoking event. (We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!) If you would like any further information about any of our HR events, please feel free to drop me a line at Alternatively you can give the HR Team a call on 0121 717 1900!