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News & Press: Blog

The new role for the HR Business Partner

29 January 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Pia-Maria Thorén
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We are entering an era of exponential change in probably all industries across the world. This needs to be reflected in the role of leaders and HR.

Today the most progressive companies have changed the formal management role to encompass more servant leadership.  People are most productive, creative, and happy when they have personal control over their own lives, and the ability to be leaders of their own destiny.


Although the changed view of leaders and of the formal manager role is still far from mainstream, many organisations are experimenting with alternative structures. They are replacing budgets with forecasts and dynamic resource allocation to create the best possible value. The role of managers and HR is rapidly changing. The focus is moving from policies and processes to understanding that the future for HR lies in creating conditions for people to perform and be happy. By removing impediments, we can maximise engagement and employee satisfaction that will fuel speed and adaptability in a common, strategic direction.


The question is; where do managers and HR go from here? What will become of them when everyone seems able to lead themselves? Will they slowly become obsolete when information and knowledge are transparent and available to everyone? Will they become insignificant when power is no longer in the hands of the few "talents" who were promoted because they were seen as "HIPOs" in a world where people were judged in a yearly performance review? Or is there an alternative role in the future that will organically form when leaving the process-orientated and transactional HR and leadership styles in favour of ways of working more suitable for a complex reality.


If you are a leader, agile coach, or HR professional, you need to understand how people strategy and people operations have to change when working in a company that embraces an agile value structure.


The Agile People Coach and the HR Business Partner

The traditional role of an HR Business Partner is a very broad and general role with one or more specialist areas, very similar to the T-shaped person that would increase adaptability and a more flexible workforce. The HR generalist is actually probably the role that most of all existing roles resembles the Agile People Coach in a common organisation today.

An Agile People Coach typically comes from an HR role, a Leadership role or has previously been an Agile Coach, coming from IT or a tech background.

HR Business Partners needs to turn into Agile People Coaches, and already have the necessary competence about basic human needs, behaviours, teamwork and how to support an emerging strategy towards the organisation's purpose. The old HR roles are quickly becoming obsolete as the competencies that they learned in universities 20 years ago are now outdated.

An Agile People Coach is more than an Agile Coach, although the basic understanding for agile values, agile tools and methods, systems theory and organisations are the same. The difference lies in the deeper People perspective and having worked as a leader and / or an HR person in a business, large or small, outside of IT at least part of their career. They need awareness that the secret to success always comes from people’s motivation to create value and that different things motivate different people to perform. How well you can create conditions for people to perform together, will affect how much value is created for the organisation as a whole. Coaching people to find a place where they can be the best they can be, is a core quality for an Agile People Coach.

The Agile People Coach also needs awareness about tools, methods, models and frameworks, not just for making a software development team perform, but also a regular business department or a management team (where they still exist).

Making people work cross functionally between departments such as Finance, IT, HR, Legal, Marketing or R&D require knowledge about new ways of working that will promote communication across usual boundaries - like the Buddy System, Beyond Budgeting or OKRs.

Last, but not least, the Agile People Coach needs to have competence around how strategies emerge and adapt and how to involve all people in the organisation in the emerging strategy creation. When people continuously improve and learn in a common direction, and when mistakes are seen as learning opportunities, we can create that psychologically safe culture that forms the foundation for a learning organisation. And when people feel safe to be vulnerable in front of peers, we know we have succeeded.

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Guest blogger bio

Pia-Maria Thorén has 25 years of consultant experience from large Swedish and international companies within HR, leadership and organization transformation.She is the author of the book  ”Agile People – A Radical Approach for HR and Management (That Leads to Motivated Employees)” Pia-Maria is also the founder of the company GreenBullet and the global network Agile People.


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