Why HRBPs Fail! Hint: It Might Be Your Fault

May 10, 2018 Oliver Manalac

Implementing effective business partnering has never been so critical, so why are HRBPs still failing?

You would be hard pressed to find an HR organization that has not—in one way, shape or form—tried to transform to be more relevant to the organizations they serve.  Since David Ulrich developed his widely-accepted “Three-Pillar HR Operating Model,”1 25 years ago, HR organizations have been restructuring in hopes of creating a competitive edge for their businesses.

But restructuring is not enough.  At Aon, we help companies think beyond the traditional model in order to create an HR operating model that can flex to the needs of the business2.  But still, it takes more than just looking at the model. Leading companies have realized that they need the right roles, with the right competencies, to bring their HR operating model to life.

As a former HRBP (turned consultant) who has spent over 20 years in HR, let me share with you my first-hand, somewhat disruptive, experience going through an HR Transformation and I what I learned along the way.

The organization I worked for was like many others—at some point, they realized that they had to adapt to a growing VUCA3 environment in order to remain competitive.  That meant having to go through some pretty disruptive change.  Of course, since people are the keystone to an organization, this also meant that the individuals within the company would have to drastically change too.  And since HR is accountable for an organization’s people, this ultimately meant the responsibility of managing the human side of change fell squarely on my lap as an HRBP.

Now, when I first found out about my organization’s transformation and my required involvement in it, I was thrilled.  I felt like HR had finally arrived, and I had earned a seat at the proverbial table.  My leaders trusted me with helping them and their people change.  What more could I ask for?

BUT…this enthusiasm quickly turned to fear when I realized that HR would also need to transform.  So, basically, I too had to change—all while having to manage others through change.  Oh no.  My plate had just doubled!

Further exacerbating things was that I had no clue whether or not I was actually capable of doing what was being asked of me!  Was I competent enough? Did I have the right skills?   The organization—and HR alongside it—were transforming so fast, no one really took the time to see if I was really ready for the job ahead.

What Should Have Been Done?

This experience taught me that it’s critical to clearly set expectations with all of HR at the onset of any transformation initiative. And even more so for HRBPs who often serve as the face of HR to the business.  It may seem like common sense, but it’s often missed:  When you tell someone what is required of them, then their ability to meet those requirements increases.  When my organization did not clarify the skills and competencies needed from me as an HRBP, they reduced my ability to support them through the transformation.

That’s why, even after 25+ years, HR functions still continue to struggle providing full value to their organizations after transformation.4

At Aon, we know the required capabilities for HRBPs to be successful during a transformation:5

  • Business Acumen: Demonstrates an ability to gain deep functional knowledge and understand how their business operates in order to make sound HR decisions 
  • Personal and Professional Impact: Earns credibility and trust which enables them to actively engage and influence their business and drive HR outcomes 
  • Client Focus: Utilizes knowledge of the business environment they operate in and their own HR expertise to develop talent solutions that meet business needs
  • Organizational Assessment: Uses data to understand their organization, accurately assess the root cause of various talent issues, and determine the appropriate HR intervention
  • Consulting Skills: In collaboration with their client, delivers the best possible HR solutions and  level of service
  • Coaching and Influencing: Interacts and partners using interpersonal skills, HR and business knowledge, and personal credibility to influence others to an intended outcome
  • Facilitating Organizational Change: Generates inclusive ideas and approaches when applying change best practices to ensure a smooth implementation of key HR initiatives

Regardless of what HR Competency Model an organization chooses to use, an organization must first define what are the critical capabilities are, and then, clearly communicate and set those expectations with their HRBPs.  That way, there is a clear path forward.

You’ve Clarified Expectations…What Now?

Once an organization has set the “path forward” for their HRBPs, there is still more work to do. How would an HRBP know if they are embodying the competencies required of them?  How would an HRBP know if they are capable of being successful in the new role required of them?

The best (and simplest) way to do this would be to conduct an assessment of the HRBP.  Match the HRBP’s current knowledge, skills and abilities against the required competencies.  Get quantitative    data and qualitative feedback from a myriad of stakeholders, including the HRBPs themselves, their managers, the leaders they support and the people they work with.  Then, analyze the input received   to gain a holistic perspective and deep insight as to what the HRBPs’ strengths and opportunities are.  Finally, act on findings by creating a comprehensive plan that would position the HRBP—and, ultimately, the entire organization—to succeed.

At Aon, we have a simple but flexible Capability Assessment Tool6 that provides the data and insight needed to understand HRBP strengths and development opportunities, both at an individual and an aggregate level. This tool can help:

  • Build a strong business case for increasing HRBP performance and its alignment to organizational needs
  • Harness HRBP capabilities, leveraging their strengths and addressing their opportunities
  • Increase HRBP trust and engagement by showing them the organization’s investment in helping them succeed
  • Create an effective HR function that is able to deliver on the organization’s agenda and required outcomes

It’s All About Gaining Perspective

Organizations need to be able to quickly change and adapt in order to remain relevant in today’s competitive environment.  However, moving TOO fast and not taking the time to truly prepare the workforce for change can actually do more detriment than good.  I’ve learned that the hard way.

When I was an HRBP, I had the opportunity to effectively support my organization through their transformation journey.  But, I was unprepared. 

Now I know that investing in the HRBP upfront by: 1) defining the competencies required of them, 2) conveying these expectations clearly early on, and 3) providing the support for them to get there, will maximize the results for an organization’s transformation.


1 The graphic shown is Aon’s own rendition of the HR operating model as envisioned by Ulrich.

2 Aon, “Rethinking HR Transformation ,” 2014 (http:// http://www.aon.com/human-capital-consulting/consulting/HR_Effectiveness.jsp)

3 VUCA is an acronym used to describe Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of general conditions and situations.

4 CEB Corporate Leadership Council, “Unlocking HR Business Partner Performance in the New Work Environment ,” 2014 (http://clc.executiveboard.com)

5 The graphic shown is Aon’s own point-of-view of the critical competencies required of the HRBP during HR and organizational transformation.

6 To know more about Aon’s HR Capability Assessment Tool, contact humancapitalconsulting@aon.com


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