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HR business partners and centers of expertise

HR organisation

HR is at a turning point. For a decade now, it has been undergoing a process of transformation. But for many organisations, 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.

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.

HR Business Partners play a role like that of an account manager — deep knowledge of the client matched with deep knowledge of where to go to bring services and solutions. Positions are filled with people who have strong project management capability, who are adaptable to new projects and who can draw the most out of the Centers of Expertise for specialist input.

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.

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