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HRM = Business Partner. Is building a bridge over the 'Grand Canyon' possible?

Do Business and HR Managers speak the same language?

September 23 2011 - Look at job descriptions for HR manager or HR consultant positions and you will often find the term "HRM as Business Partner". The same expression is frequently used in organizations' HRM policy statements. Richard van der Lee, Manager Retail Clients from Rabobank finds this a fascinating phenomenon and asks whether HRM really wants to be a Business Partner.

Van der Lee says: "I think that to serve as a business partner it is important that HR has (or gets) a feel for business. The prerequisite is that HR Managers speak the same language as other business managers but there is often a clearly noticeable gap - not to say a 'Grand Canyon'. Many policymakers and people working within the HR domain take a traditionalist perspective on HRM issues. Taking the concept of HRM = Business Partner, I believe it is necessary that people from elsewhere in a business have the opportunity to switch to HRM or, at least, to provide input. There is considerable room for improvement because of blurred vision within the HR domain in a lot of organizations." Van der Lee illustrates this using examples from his personal experiences.

Applying for an HR function

"In the past I applied for management and consulting positions within the HRM domain several times," says Van der Lee. "Often my applications were rejected early in the selection process because - as a business manager - I had insufficient knowledge and experience in the HRM domain. Many times I also heard that I did not have a 'conventional' HR education as part of my Curriculum Vitae. It appears that selectors do not look too hard for the right skills, while nowadays it is not only important to have the right education, but also to know where to find knowledge when you need it.

The day-to-day job of a business manager is creating the connection between people, especially customers and employees. To optimize these connections, today's managers are working on the personal development (e.g. education, talent management) of their employees without losing sight of the needs of their clients and organizational targets. As HRM-tasks are part of business management, managers use diverse HRM instruments, and combine them with common sense and feeling with the business. This is not a monthly event, but daily business. Without well-educated and motivated employees it is not possible to treat your customers in the way you would wish as an organization. Summarized, HRM is an important functional component of a business manager's work. Therefore, it is not always necessary to have experience in the HRM domain nor a traditional HRM education when you apply for a HRM function. In particular, the requirement for specialist HRM education on your Curriculum Vitae is outdated. A change of view is necessary when HRM wants to become a business partner.

Not fitting the profile

Van der Lee: "For a couple of months now, I have regularly published articles on HRM-related websites. Furthermore, I have written several papers and a dissertation related to HRM, for example about leadership programs, process development, and talent management. Out of interest in the HRM domain, I wanted to subscribe to a HRM community, which is used by 'HRM professionals'. I was surprised when my subscription was rejected because my profile didn't fit the requirements. According the admissions committee, I did not have the required experience and education. Even an e-mail with explanation from my side, couldn't convince them. I would describe this situation described as a nice example and confirmation of the gap between HRM and business.

Implemanting HRM policy and tools

Frequently, the HRM policy and tools for business are developed by HRM specialists only. According to Van der Lee: "often these lack a good implementation, leading to a waste of money and time. This does not motivate either HR managers or business employees involved ".

There are enough excuses for the lack of implementation. One of the most cited: 'management has a resistance to change'. Do you recognize this? Van der Lee says: "In my opinion, in developing HRM policy and tools HRM specialists often ignore the knowledge that already exists at management or operational levels. Most of the time business reality is different from the scenario imagined by HRM specialists. As such the intentions and thoughts of HRM specialist are good, but in fact worthless without the translation managers and employees need for implementation. The specialists are often not sufficiently involved in the business process. The result is a lack of implementation and communication which could have been resolved at an earlier stage. In summary, HRM specialists do not speak the business language and the consequence is loss of positive energy.


Van der Lee says: "These examples are from personal experiences and will not apply to everyone. Not every organization has the same relation between HRM and business. It depends on the stage of development of an organization, the presence of a well-defined vision, the willingness to change, the cooperation within the company, the strategic position of the HRM department and the acceptance of this department as a business partner. In my opinion, there is an unnecessary gap - more like a 'Grand Canyon'. Change starts with awareness and discussion. The purpose is to have the right person (with individual talents) at the right time on the right spot to achieve motion, thus bridging the gap between HRM and the business. Getting people from the business involved in HRM will result in a brighter view and more feeling with and support for the business. Then it is possible for HRM to contribute to the common goal of the organization as a true business partner: serve your client in the most optimal and profitable way.

Richard van der Lee is working as a Manager at Rabobank in the Netherlands. Besides that Richard is Talent Entrepreneur at his own company ‘Vision on Talent Consultancy’. He published several articles/blogs which have been published on several HRM-sites and a website for managers and directors in the Netherlands and Belgium). He gives advice to individuals/organizations about talentdevelopment-issues and is also asked to give presentations about his vision on HRM-issues in seminars. As part of an Executive MBA he researched the development of individual talent in organizations. This resulted in a specific ideology for organizations, and a corresponding model on how to build a ‘vision on talent’. The main component of the model is the strong relationship between relevant market perspectives and organizational perspectives. Email Richard for questions or suggestions to, or find him on twitter under the name @visieoptalent or visit his website Visieoptalent. A version of this article was earlier published in the Netherlands on several websites and is translated from Dutch into English by Joop van der Lee.


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