Your Performance Partner

You need partner to gain advance performance

In 1996 a column appeared in Fortune magazine that created quite a stir within the Human Resource (HR) profession. Entitled “Taking on the Last Bureaucracy,” the column’s author indicated that he had a modest proposal regarding the HR department.

“Why not blow the sucker up? I don’t mean improve HR …I mean abolish it” (Stewart, 1996, p. 105). These are tough words! Could they be an anomaly, stated by someone who had a conflict with his local HR department? Unfortunately, it does not appear so. David Ulrich, an esteemedacademic, consultant, and supporter of the HR profession, indicated that “as much as I like HR people …I must agree that there is good reason for HR’s beleaguered reputation.

It is often ineffective, incompetent and costly; in a phrase it is value sapping” (1998, p. 124).

Why the criticism of a field that is dedicated to support- ing people within organizations? We believe it is largely due to the reticence, even resistance, of many HR functions and professionals to embrace a more strategic, and less transactional, approach. A recent survey of HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicated

That only 7 percent of respondents believed the need for HR to work as a Strategic Business Partner (SBP) was a key trend (Caudron, 2003, p. 28). Higher on the list were managing diversity and administering health care. And while many in the HR field are slow to accept the need to be more strategic, transactional work—the work that has been a primary focus for HR functions—is increasingly being outsourced.

According to a research report by SHRM published in 2004, almost 60 percent of organizations responding to the survey indicate that they are currently outsourcing at least one HR function. Many of the most common functions outsourced are transactional and administrative in nature, including employee assistance and counseling, health benefits administration, and temporary staffing.

Clearly, expectations for HR are changing. The bar is rising. The result is a gap between what managers and employees need from their HR departments and what is being provided.

Strategic Business Partners (SBPs) demonstrate competence in many ways—through their questioning of clients, their knowledge of the business, and their ability to translate business needs into performance requirements and people initiatives. But performing effectively as an SBP requires use of a mental model as a guide or rudder.

We discuss the four key concepts integral to this mental model and critical to success as an SBP. We clarify the nature of strategic work and why an SBP must be involved in strategic initiatives. We also discuss the four types of needs in every organization and why an SBP must be aware of their impact upon every project. In addition we describe how asking the “right” questions and gaining access to clients will have a direct impact upon your success as an SBP.

Overview of Four SBP Concepts The word concept means “a general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences.” From our work and that of academicians and other practitioners in our field, there are clearly four concepts that are relevant to an SBP:

1. Three Kinds of Work. HR functions support three kinds of work: transactional, tactical, and strategic. Although SBP perform all three kinds of work, it is vital that the majority Of their work be strategic in nature.

2. The Need Hierarchy. If you have read either Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training, or Zap the Gaps! Target Higher Performance and Achieve It!, you will be familiar with this concept, which acknowledges the four needs resident within organizations at all times. This hierarchy will be explained ; it is a key tool SBPs use to define and align these needs.

3. Translating Business Needs into Human Performance Requirements and Initiatives. This concept supports the types of questions that are asked by SBPs. It is vital that SBPs ask “the right questions right” to determine the human performance requirements and gaps relative to a business need. Only then can the most appropriate initiatives be identified. But what are the right questions? They are rooted within this concept.


4. Identifying the True Client. One of the most common errors made by SBPs is to learn too late they are not working with the “true” client. Who qualifies as a client? Using appropriate criteria to determine the specific individuals with whom to partner is critical.