Human Resources in many companies have the traditional role as compliance officers. Since 2007, we have worked with Chief Human Resources Officers who are charged with aligning their HR teams to the business strategy and developing their HR leaders as true business partners. This is no small task, as many HR professionals in Generalist roles are happy with administration. At EMC and AT&T, our approach has been to define the new competency model required for HR, and then to introduce training on how to become a Trusted Advisor.

Trusted Advisor training provides models and tools that enable the HR team to learn and practice new ways of thinking, behaving, and speaking with their clients. We usually begin the training with the top roles in HR and work our way down to the frontline HR generalists in order to address the cultural and policy issues that attend this change in practice. This work allows the HR team to learn together, to identify how to change their practices, and to make adjustments over a period of time. It’s also important for the Top HR Leaders to go first because it allows them to model the way. This organizational development approach helps the entire HR team align with their Business Partners while learning how to be seen as consultants rather than administrators.

One of the most difficult aspects to this change is learning new communication skills that enable HR partners to say “No” to work they may have done in the past to help out the business leader they support. A case in point is writing the mid-year and annual review for their Business Partner Leader, rather than coaching them through the process and creating expectations that this type of work belongs to the leaders rather than HR. It can be a tough transition for many HR Business Partners (HRBP) who enjoy being relied on to take the administrative compliance burden from their clients. To say the least, it is behavioral change for both the HR Partner and the Business Leader.

Over time, additional development is needed for the HR Leadership Team (HRLT) to help them understand the company’s strategy and gain confidence, experience, and credibility as a true business partner. As new expectations are set between the HRLT and the Top Leadership Team, Human Resource Leaders need to have a point of view and a voice on matters of strategy. This year, in an aerospace organization, we facilitated a Strategic Planning Process for the company’s HRLT that included development in Scenario Planning. Using case studies developed with an understanding of the Defense Industry, the Company’s M&A strategy, and discussions with executives about their 2020 plans, we were able to help the HR leadership team gain practical experience thinking through the implications of different business strategies on the bottom line, as well as the impact on workforce planning and HR policy. Of course, this is just the first in a series of well thought through implementation steps designed to develop each of the HRLT members as strategic business partners for the Divisions they serve. The process may take several years, and it can be expected to have fits and starts as the cycle of learning takes time. In the end, most HRBPs prefer a “seat at the table” and enjoy playing a stronger role in the business planning process, as well as execution of strategy.

In an agri-business client organization, we are also coaching the executives about the role of the HRBP and how to define and leverage the capability and capacity of the HR partner. It is interesting to note that not all leaders understand what a true HRBP role can mean and how to use this capability to it’s maximum advantage. As both the HRBP and the General Manager move through their learning process together, great work is being done in the Field HR organization that will build momentum and support the cultural change that is underway. We expect to show significant organizational development by year-end. The HRBP is enjoying the newly-found respect and opportunities to play a more significant role in the business, and the General Manager is delighted to have a strong partnership with the field HR organization. Previously, the GM thought of HR as a compliance group and brought them in afterbusiness decisions were made as part of the implementation team. Now, the HRBP is at the table and engaged from the beginning.