Human resources business partners analyze employee manual.

What Is a Human Resources Business Partner? A Look at the Backbone of Business


Human resource departments are tasked with managing the most critical, unpredictable, and varied assets of a company: people. These teams oversee employee relations, compliance, payroll and benefits, staff onboarding and offboarding strategies, conflict resolution, and performance evaluations—while aligning with company goals.

To help manage these processes, many businesses go outside of their company and bring in human resources business partners. But what is a human resources business partner, and what makes their consulting expertise such a valuable commodity? Individuals interested in pursuing a business leadership career related to managing human assets in corporations should explore these are fundamental questions.

Defining the Role of the Human Resources Business Partner

The human resources business partner job description was first formalized by professor David Ulrich in his 1996 book, Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results. Ulrich saw the human resources business partner as a strategy leader and agent of change in a company, rather than just a reactive manager handling administrative tasks.

Ulrich wrote in his 2012 book, HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources: “As the pace of change increases in every aspect of our lives, HR professionals have become change champions in many companies around the world, and this has generally been much to their employers’ advantage.”

Today, the role of the human resources business partner (HRBP) is typically a consulting one. They are contracted to work with management to address various HR-related issues that directly affect management and employees. Tasks can include developing new employee management initiatives and programs, evaluating and implementing changes in workplace policies and laws, and solving complex issues among personnel. In some cases, they can help oversee international HR tasks.

The position’s underlying goal is cultivating and maintaining a strong sense of symbiosis among management and employees, both within each respective group and each other. Doing so can help to improve work relationships, build a greater sense of morale, boost productivity, and ultimately create an optimized workplace.

Essential Skills for Success

Companies can outsource the services of HRBPs to provide support in a range of legal, interpersonal, and administrative processes. As leaders in this role, these individuals require certain essential skills and competencies for success.

For example, human resources business partners must excel at organization, strategic thinking, and performance management. They should possess strong communication and problem-solving skills, to work alongside executives in creating goals and strategies for implementation by management and employees. These partners also must know best practices in human resources, recruiting, and workplace policies.

The Position’s Corporate Hierarchy

The position of human resources business partner operates at a higher business level than standard human resources managers. As such, this hierarchy affects how human resources business partners approach their various responsibilities.

Compared to human resources managers, human resources business partners focus on building strategies that align with the overall goals of a company. While managers may focus more on day-to-day administrative tasks like payroll and recruiting, business partners typically introduce new initiatives that change or optimize the course of the human resources department. HRBPs often work with corporate executives and department managers to align their vision with business goals.

Salary and Job Growth Information

According to PayScale, the average salary for a human resources business partner is $74,699. Certain factors such as experience, skills, and job description can influence the exact salary for this position. For example, a human resources business partner with years of experience managing a human resources team or holding a master’s degree may receive a higher salary than someone without these qualifications.

Compensation also may increase as the need and duties of human resources business partners change. A 2018 report from McKinsey & Company noted that CEOs are struggling to find effective human resources business partners. According to an article written for McKinsey by Neel Gandhi and Sarah Pobereskin, “Many business leaders today do not look to HRBPs as drivers of value via pulling talent levers; they continue to see them as personnel managers. This must change.”

As more business leaders see human resources business partners as crucial agents of change within an organization, job growth in this career should continue to increase.

Starting a Career in Human Resources Leadership           

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has maintained a leadership position in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allows students to make a positive impact on their places of work and communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program can help a student build a career as a human resources business partner. With concentrations in human resources leadership and organizational leadership, the degree program develops the skills and knowledge needed to lead teams and inspire change, preparing participants to drive organizational change toward success.


Recommended Readings
Career Outlook: Human Resource Managers
The Top 4 Careers in Leadership
Leadership Curriculum — Mapping Your Education

HR Business Partner, SHRM
What Is an HR Business Partner?, NaturalHR
Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results, David Ulrich
What Is the Difference Between a HR Manager and a HR Business Partner?, LinkedIn
HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources, David Ulrich
Human Resources (HR) Business Partner 2.0, LinkedIn
Average Human Resources (HR) Business Partner Salary, PayScale
The Critical Importance of the HR Business Partner, McKinsey & Company
The HRBP’s Evolving Strategic Role, Gartner
Master of Science in Leadership, Norwich University