· Features

Time to drop the HR 'service function' mentality

We are indebted to the HR leaders who took part in our latest research Business Partner – new contribution or simply a change of name?

Their frankness, invaluable insight and willingness to share their experience leading 21st Century HR functions has exposed a number of challenges for HR function heads in all sizes and types of businesses.

What's clear, is that while the job title has changed to business partner, in the main, the functional mindset has not. Our research shows that the all important nature of the business partnership is often ignored, while functions focus on defining roles and structures. We recently invited our respondents to a highly successful networking event in London. Our conclusions are a direct result of the tremendous willingness of the delegates, to share their experiences:

1. Business partnership is not a role, but a way of working

True business partnership should be based on shared ownership of the organisation's challenges. It must also reflect a genuine willingness to be held accountable for an organisation's successes and its failures. However, less than 10% of respondents consider that such a business partner model is fully embedded within their organisation. In addition, while 70% of those surveyed are changing the team in order to boost capability, and of this majority 92% redefining the roles the Business Partner, only 50% are redefining the actual performance needed from business partners. In today's business environment, where adding value is king, it is imperative that HR function heads focus on performance.

2. A clear, shared definition built in collaboration with those you hope to partner with is essential

Our research shows the "support function" mentality is still very much in place, and needs to be superseded by the development of effective relationships based on shared goals and mutual respect. The good news is that 73% highlight the importance of building credible relationships with the business. However it is essential to define the business partnership model within the unique context of the organisation. There is no common destination. The ultimate business partnership is that between the CEO and the function head - it is critical for ensuring that the functional agenda is integral to the success of the organisation.

3. Effective business partners seek shared responsibility for an organisation's challenges

Achieving this shift means developing those individuals already in place "growing your own", and recruiting new talent into the function. Indeed people development and changing mindsets is the biggest challenge of all. Development programmes can certainly help people to understand the change required and equip them with the skills for success. But also essential to effective transformation is the creation of a culture of responsibility. Very often it this is the area where many business functions need the most help, but invest least effort.

4. Individuals must recognise the value of true business partnership

Even the "leading lights" in our survey who recognise the value of business partnership, concede that true business partnership has some way to go and for a minority of the respondents the model is yet to be embedded in any significant way. In a number of organisations the job title "Business Partner" is used, but in reality the majority of team members are either carrying out traditional transactional activities, or responding to the line, rather than working collaboratively to the good of the organisation. The business partnership vision must be communicated and acted upon.

5. Implementing business partnership represents a significant and complex change

Functional transformation requires strong change leadership: vision, persistence and strong communication. Multi-dimensional solutions are needed - and respondents say that this means creating a change roadmap: to move from the current state to one where not just the function head, or key individuals, but the entire function is seen as a valuable partner to the business. People fear change: change needs to be turned on its head as a positive.

Courage is required, particularly when the status-quo has not yet been challenged - you can drive the change. HR function heads are well positioned to make a lasting contributing to strategic and management thinking. To evaluate the resources and capabilities needed to implement business plans and to lead a multi-disciplined team engaged in strategic and tactical planning. This is nothing less than exploiting the opportunity to add value to the business.

Simon Court (pictured), CEO, Value Partnership LLP