What's an HR specialist and an HR business partner (HRBP)?

Helen Gallagher 23.11.2012

HR as a discipline has changed dramatically over the past decade. Firstly with the emergence of the 'specialist' discipline and secondly with the evolution of the 'business partner' job title.

HR specialist

The role of the HR specialist emerged largely within corporate/multinational sectors. There was a move away from the role of the generalist and we saw the emergence of specialist roles across:
  • employee relations
  • industrial relations
  • learning & development
  • talent acquisition
  • compensation & benefits
Whilst there were many advantages associated with the above, the downside to this evolution was the resulting depletion of talented generalist HR managers with broad based experience across HR.
We then witnessed a move back to a more generalist approach to the discipline where organsiations developed talent across the functions as opposed to creating vertical specialists and thereby limiting the talent pool for more senior appointments. 

The HR business partner

The emergence of the HR business partner again is a recent phenomenon. The job title however is one that is common place across both generalist & managerial levels. In some organisations a business partner is recognised as a director level role while in other it’s more commonly used to replace the generalist title. 
It is less common to see a traditional generalist title being used to advertise a new role in the market. The HR generalist title is now more of a traditional term within the sector. It was used when the HR team was seen as reactionary rather than proactive. 
Today the HR function within the business contributes hugely to the commerciality of the business and the bottom line. There are greater expectations and the function is held more accountable. HR today is very much focused on developing & retaining talent within the organisation and they are highly involved in cross functional projects across the business. An HR professional is now a true partner to the business and the expectation from individuals within the function has certainly evolved. The function is now very metric focused across all aspects of the discipline.
I often ask junior HR professionals why they decided to embark on a career in HR, the answer is very often 'I like people'. While people are central to the function, the role now demands highly commercial, analytical, decisive individuals with an extremely strong negotiation ability. This is not a function for the faint hearted and requires a lot of dedication and diligence!
To talk about HR roles contact the HR recruitment team.
Helen Gallagher's picture
Global Head of HR


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