The 4 Key Aspects to Being a Strategic Partner

Published: May 22, 2014
Modified: Jun 01, 2020

By David Jamieson

With all of the changes in the environment and global context for organizations, the transition to more strategic HR has been progressing during the past decade. However, the true transition of HR and HR professionals has been slow in having real impact to adding value to organization strategic execution and equality at “the table.”  Yet, it has become clear that the design, development, and maintenance of the human system are as critical to future success as financial, technical, and operational systems.

The strategic business partner (SBP) role holds real promise, but has rarely been designed and executed in ways that could develop different results. The SBP role requires a different integration of knowledge and skills and a different mindset. Based on extensive experience and research into these roles, the core pillars for success come from: The HR discipline (especially strategic HR), key Organization Development (OD) foundational concepts,  understanding business acumen and specific business context, models and drivers, and finally understanding what it means to be a “partner” and operate in partnership.

To be explicit about the SBP concept, we believe the role must be developed around providing human capital and organization change perspectives embedded into business leadership teams. In order to be effective, they will need business credibility and the ability to work in partnership with the other leaders. The SBP model is a way to ensure the human system implications and needed change strategies are part of business leadership decisions. It involves both what was always intended as strategic work in HR and new work in strategic and systems thinking, organization design, culture change, human system alignment and change management.

The core pillars for SBP success each play an important role in having valuable impact on results:

  • Human Resource Understanding. There are strategic and operational aspects to most HR functions and the SBP needs clarity and competence in what they are, how to separate them and how they impact the workplace, workforce and strategy. Both operational and strategic HR work is important and needed. How they are designed and delivered is critical to how well any strategic HR work gets done. Understanding all the ways HR can contribute to strategic initiatives is primary for SBPs.
  • Key Organization Development Foundational Concepts. From the OD world, the capabilities needed are the ones that help create an environment that allows the employees to operate at their fullest potential. It includes looking at organizations as systems and looking at organizations from the individual, team, and whole organization perspectives. It also involves using consultative skills. From a specific knowledge and skills perspective it requires a deep understanding of how whole systems change, organization design, strategy development, leadership development, team development, organization diagnostics and assessment, coaching, facilitation, organization culture, and the use of applied behavioral sciences to improve the effectiveness of human system dynamics. 
  • Understanding the Business of the Organization. Put simply, HR professionals need to be knowledgeable in the business of their organization, whether it’s a corporation, non-profit, school, or hospital. This includes what it does, its products or services, customers, markets, competitors, how it works, its business model, performance and financial drivers, human resources, the mission, direction, strategy, history, culture, environment, and global influences. The SBP needs to know how the business makes and spends money so they can understand how to support contributing to their bottom line and organizational sustainability.  
  • Operating in Partnership. Understanding what it means to become a partner and to actually have the ability to be a partner is equally important.  For example, a partner has to get to know the people he/she hopes to partner with and build relationships. This involves understanding interpersonal relationships, individual personality characteristics and styles, and having empathy. This goes beyond having discussions only at the task level. Good partnership requires a relationship at a personal level.  This then begins to provide the basis for the necessary levels of openness and trust for the relationship to develop into a strong partnership. Partnership also requires the ability to discuss differences and manage conflicts while maintaining the on-going relationship. Partners also require basic equality in that each person brings something valuable to the partnership unit and they operate with mutual respect, collaboration, and influence.

As organizations continue to grapple with extensive, continuous changes, human resource and change leadership become more critical to manage the human capital, quality of work life, and talent competency; and to manage the design, change, and effectiveness of the new workplace. The strategic business partner role is part of the solution. 

About The Author

David W. Jamieson, PhD, is Professor & Department Chair, Organization Learning & Development, College of Education, Leadership & Counseling at the University of St. Thomas. He is also President of the Jamieson Consulting Group, Inc. and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in other OD programs. He has 40 years of experience consulting to organizations on leadership, change, strategy, design and human resource issues. He is a Past National President of the American Society for Training and Development (1984) and Past Chair of the Management Consultation Division and Practice Theme Committee of the Academy of Management. He was the recent recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization Development Network and Chairs the Organization Development Education Association. He received his Ph.D in Management from UCLA, majoring in Organization Design & Development and a BS in Business Administration from Drexel University, with a Behavioral Science minor. He is co-author of The Facilitator's Fieldbook, co-author of Consultation for Organizational Change, and one of the editors of Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organizational Development from the OD Network. He can be reached at [email protected].