Back in the days when I did my CIPD qualification (a long time ago – the best grade in GCSE was still an A and newspaper retained Investigators were still going through bins) the phrase everyone was espousing was “HR as a business partner”. You may have heard it….
In studying models of HR practice the few that stuck in my mind (in fact I think I learned them by rote for a potential essay question) were by Tyson & Fell and Storey.
Tyson & Fell
In their 1986 book “Evaluating the Personnel Function” Tyson & Fell likened the different forms of personnel function to roles on a construction site like this:
“(i) The clerk of works – all authority for action is vested in line managers. HR policies are formed or created after the actions that led to the need. Policies are not integral to the business and are short term and ad hoc. Authority is vested in line managers and HR activities are largely routine – employment and day-to-day administration.
(ii) The contracts manager – policies are well established, often implicit, with a heavy industrial relations emphasis, possibly derived from an employers association. The HR department will use fairly sophisticated systems, especially in the field of employee relations. The HR manager is likely to be a professional or very experienced in industrial relations. He or she will not be on the board and, although having some authority to ‘police’ the implementation of policies, acts mainly in an interpretative, not a creative or innovative, role.
(iii) The architect – explicit HR policies exist as part of the corporate strategy. Human resource planning and development are important concepts and a long-term view is taken. Systems tend to be sophisticated. The head of the HR function is probably on the board and his or her power is derived from professionalism and perceived contribution to the business.”
Storey was one of the first ‘two by two’ models I ever understood (far too many have come since but that’s a whole other post) and his model looks something like this…
Look kind of familiar? It will do because lo and behold 5 years later, what appeared but this…..
Yes the mother lode of Dave Ulrich and the phrase “HR as a business partner” was born (and 27,000 fairies died). Don’t get me wrong I am not one of the Ulrich haters but like any model it should be taken in context and not taken completely literally. For what it’s worth my view on models? They provoke thinking to consider what you are currently doing differently. They are not a recipe book to be ‘cooked’ verbatim.
This brings us to my point…. “HR as a business partner”. If you stick HR business partner into any job board you will get loads of adverts with a huge range of salaries doing a whole range of things at a vast range of levels. It had become a catch all job title but are any of them truly business partnering?
If you talk to someone who runs a small business and they talk about their business partner I doubt they talk about someone who polices them, tells them what they are doing wrong and runs their payroll. That is what their office manager or in some cases their book keeper does. Their business partner will have skin in the game. Their business partner will be vested in the business (usually financially) and will be to some degree, depending on the partnership, accountable for the results of the enterprise. How many HR business partners could claim that?
I truly believe (otherwise I would be doing something else) that HR can have a powerful role in the business. That positioned correctly, invested in properly and filled with courageous and knowledgeable practitioners, the HR department can be a true business partner (in the way described above). But can we please please stop kidding ourselves that we are anywhere close. Rather than focussing on the rhetoric and coolest new model, can we start working to make some of those already in existence effective….please!