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Factsheet:

HR business partnering

Resource summary

This factsheet was last updated in December 2013.

What is HR business partnering?

HR business partnering is a process whereby HR professionals work closely with business leaders and/or line managers to achieve shared organisational objectives, in particular designing and implementing HR systems and processes that support strategic business aims. This process may involve the formal designation of ‘HR business partners’, that is HR professionals who are embedded within the business, sometimes as part of a wider process of restructuring of the HR function.

However, it is important to note that many varying definitions of HR business partnering exist and, where HR business partners operate, there are wide variations in their role.

The concept of HR business partnering, or strategic partnering, emerged during the mid-late 1990s, around the time that US business academic Dave Ulrich set out his initial theories for the optimum delivery of HR. Subsequently, certain aspects of the Ulrich model have come to be depicted as a ‘three-legged stool’ or ‘three-box’ model for HR, although there is an ongoing debate over how his theories should be interpreted and put into practice. Ulrich has also reviewed and further developed his own theories on this issue in subsequent work.

The ‘three-legged model’ of HR as perceived by many commentators is based on three key elements - HR business partners, shared HR services and HR centres of excellence - which may be depicted as follows.

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  • What is HR business partnering?
  • How widespread is HR business partnering?
  • Role of HR business partners
  • Implementing HR business partnering
  • CIPD viewpoint
  • References
  • Further reading

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