The business partnering model and its impact on both the HR function and HR practice Since the concept of the business partnering model was introduced by Ulrich in 1997, the composition of the HR function has dramatically changed. As Goodge (2005) identified, “partnering is fundamentally changing almost every HR function, every HR job, and every HR career” (Pg. 32). Ulrich argued that HR needed to deliver on both a strategic and administrative level and identified four key roles through which organisations could achieve this (Torrington et al., 2007). The model has become a fixation for much of the HR community and its introduction has initiated a fundamental change to the HR function’s anatomy over the last decade (Francis & Keegan, 2008). The key themes which will be discussed within this literature review are the impact of the model on the competencies required of successful business partners, the debate of HR’s strategic focus as a result of the model and the loss of the employee champion role. However, attention must first be brought to the partnering model itself.
Ulrich’s business partnering model focuses on four key roles that HR need to address in order to deliver organisational excellence (Ulrich 1998). Becoming a ‘strategic partner’ in the execution of organisational strategy, increasing functional efficiency by being an ‘administrative expert’, fully engaging employees by becoming an ‘employee champion’ and finally, through facilitating and encouraging a culture of flexibility and acceptance to the evolving business environment as a ‘change agent’ (Ulrich 1998). Precursors to Ulrich’s partnering model are Tyson and Fell’s 1985 model, based upon three fundamental positions using a construction site metaphor (architect, clerk of works and contract negotiator) and Storey’s 1992 model based on the four roles required in the shift from personnel management to Human Resource Management (regulator, handmaiden, adviser and changemaker) (Torrington et al., 2007). In 2005, Ulrich and Brockbank mused over the partnering model once more and proposed a refreshed framework. This was not a revolutionary diversion from the original model, however a reflection of the changing roles that they had been observing in organisations since the introduction of the original model (Ulrich & Brockbank, 2005a). The model was upgraded with the omission of the roles ‘employee champion’, ‘change agent’ and ‘administrative expert’, with these being replaced by ‘employee advocate’ (focusing on current employee needs), ‘human capital developer’ (preparing employees to be successful for the future) and ‘functional expert’ (administrative efficiency and the development of policies) (Ulrich & Brockbank, 2005a). The ‘strategic partner’ role remained within the refreshed model and they also added a fifth dimension which was that of the ‘HR Leader’, the genuine leadership role which ties all four key roles together (Ulrich & Brockbank, 2005a). What is interesting from the literature, is that although this more modern model has been considered, it is the original model to which most commentators refer.
Before considering the impact of this model on HR functions and practice, it is important to first consider why such a large number of organisations have found it appropriate to restructure their HR departments in this way. In 1998, Ulrich himself questioned the effectiveness of the role that HR played in organisations and recognised that his model needed to move away from HR’s traditional activities, which focused on processes, to a focus on deliverables (Ulrich, 1998). The new model was a way of ensuring that HR as a function was adding value and increasing organisational competitiveness (Ulrich, 1997) and his approach of using HR professionals as strategic business partners was being seen as a mechanism for allowing changes to be made in order for HR to make these significant competitive and strategic contributions...
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