How to Build HR Business Partnerships

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

How do you build a great HR business partnership? First, get curious about the business!


You can use the business insights you learn to elevate the impact of HR. Maybe numbers make you nervous – this doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen your business acumen. Consider sparking your interest by finding out more about your company’s ambitions, digging into its goals and objectives, or exploring barriers to growth your company may be facing.


Once you get started, you may just find that it triggers your creativity and helps you develop new ways for HR to support the company. Before we get too far, though, let’s confirm that we are defining “HR business partner” in the same way.


What Is an HR Business Partner?

An HR business partner is a senior-level employee who focuses on supporting business units by using human resources. Although they undoubtedly have administrative duties, the more high-value contributions include advancing business goals, objectives, and strategies using HR functions:

  • Talent acquisition
  • Performance management
  • Learning and development
  • Compensation design


Successful HR business partners have strong business acumen and the ability to think strategically. Some companies assign these partners to specific business units to provide support; others do not use this title but still expect business-minded HR support.


Over time, business leaders and HR professionals alike began to recognize that HR’s impact could increase exponentially if the professionals within that department took time to align their programs and initiatives with the company’s desired direction.


Becoming an HR Business Partner

If you are just stepping into this role and are hoping to demonstrate results quickly, follow some tips to get started:

  1. Know Your Stakeholders: Identify your audience. Do you have a supervisor? How involved is the company leadership? Are you serving as the single HR business partner for the entire company, or have you been assigned to a particular department? You may have a single stakeholder or many. It’s important to know your audience so that you can take time to understand their expectations.


  1. Learn Company Plans: Find any documents you can, such as strategic plans, business plans, annual reports, financials, or department reports, and then read, read, and read. You may gain insights and develop great questions for your stakeholders.


  1. Build Rapport: Get out of your office and spend time with your stakeholders. What are their goals and aspirations? What challenges are they facing? The more you show a genuine interest, the more likely you will receive useful information. As you spend time with your stakeholders listening, learning, and understanding, your rapport with these individuals should begin to increase. Coming up with programs and initiatives privately in your office with no input or feedback is a sure way to sabotage your effectiveness immediately. The goal is to develop solutions that resonate with your stakeholders.


  1. Gain External Awareness: It is critical to understand your company’s inner workings, but don’t lose sight of what’s going on outside the company. You have the ability to get ahead of challenges by monitoring world events, watching for workforce trends, and keeping your eye on the competition. Allow this extra information to inform your recommendations.


  1. Assess: Having done your research, you may have lots of ideas about how to make a difference. Maybe you have zeroed in on an acquisition strategy that is sure to attract talent or developed a compensation strategy to address wage concerns. Have you considered the cost versus the benefit of your ideas? Do you know your budget? Show your business acumen by providing this information to your stakeholders before it is requested. Make sure that the resources are available for implementation.


  1. Execute: Once recommendations have been made and approved, execute! This is where you can really shine. The magic happens when you are able to successfully launch the initiative.


  1. Evaluate: It is easy to fall in love with an idea and keep it going despite the results. However, a strong HR business partner carefully examines the results of initiatives and is confident enough to say when the plan didn’t perform as hoped. The quicker you can recognize the need for a course correction, the sooner a better idea can be born.

Two people starting a new HR business partnership.

HR Business Partnerships  

If the leadership of a company is wondering how to get more business support from the HR team, it is helpful to start with an assessment before jumping to action. Consider some important questions before getting started:


Organizational Planning and Communication

  • Does your company have a clear plan that it shares with all department heads?
  • Does each department have goals and objectives that align with the company’s overarching strategic priorities?
  • Are the company’s resources allocated in such a way that they support achievement of the plan?
  • Is the organization structured in a way that allows you to execute the plan?
  • Does everyone understand who is responsible for doing what?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, this is a great start. HR business partners cannot be successful if they don’t know the company’s plan or if resources are not available to execute agreed-upon initiatives.


Organizational Structure

  • Does the HR team have adequate staffing to fulfill all basic HR functions?
  • Is there a better way to distribute responsibilities or adjust the structure to support HR business partnerships?

You may not need to layer on additional staff in order to build HR business partnerships. It may just require you to shine a light on the expectations and realign roles and responsibilities.



  • Are there any strategic thinkers on the HR team?
  • Has anyone on the HR team demonstrated the ability to put organizational success above any departmental or personal agendas?    
  • Is anyone already serving as a business partner of sorts by proactively communicating with management and staff to understand both goals and pain points?

Sometimes the talent is already present and just needs to be cultivated. If it is completely missing, new people may need to be brought onboard to broaden the skills of the HR team.


Other considerations

  • Does communication flow well within your company, or do certain employees hoard information?
  • Is there a high level of collaboration within your company, or is the operation more siloed?

Great HR business partnerships have information flowing in both directions. Let’s say you have an HR professional with a business background who asks all the right questions and you match this person up with a department head who hoards information and works in a silo. This is not the makings of a strong partnership. Is your whole team on board to make an HR business partnership work?


Taking Action

Once an internal assessment has been completed, you are more likely to be aware of barriers that may hold this concept back from succeeding. Some actions may need to be taken to address insights gained.


Through your assessment, you may find that you have several issues:

  • An employee who strives to be an HR business partner but is having difficulty breaking out of his administrative and compliance functions. Consider carefully whether he lacks the ability to think strategically or whether something else is at play. Does the department structure need to be realigned? Does he need to be challenged to approach work differently to maximize the time he has available to think and strategize?


  • A lack of clear organizational or business unit goals and objectives. This means there is work to do; however, you can get started by getting some basic goals and objectives down on paper even if a formal plan doesn’t exist.  


  • HR professionals who have not yet realized how much of a bigger impact they can make by serving as HR business partners. By encouraging your HR team to simply review the company’s plan and consider how they might support those efforts, you can help make your expectations clear. Consider challenging your HR team to dig into the company’s information or specific departmental plans and begin envisioning how they can play a more significant role in supporting the company’s desired direction.


  • A lack of resources allocated to support the HR business partner function. If you’ve decided that HR business partnership is a priority at your company, ensure that the resources are there to make it a success.

 An HR business partner talking with her employees.

Your Path to Strong HR Business Partnerships

To learn more about adopting a strategic approach in HR, consider taking one of our many USF courses. You can broaden your HR business partnership knowledge by taking Business Acumen for HR Professionals, where you will learn how to play a bigger role in your company’s growth, or HR Data-Driven Decision Making, where you will learn how to use data to inform your thinking and improve your ability to demonstrate HR’s impact.


See HR Courses