HR as Business Partner: 13 New Dimensions

The concept of HR as business partner continues to evolve. HR Leads Business from HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) catches up with HR guru Dave Ulrich, who has identified 13 critical dimensions HR leaders must make to meet emerging business challenges.

Here are the highlights:

  1. Outside-In HR: The type of value HR delivers has evolved from efficiency, to functional, to strategic and, now, HR value that is generated from the outside-in — from external to internal stakeholders.


  2. Business Value: Business requires acknowledging and appreciating external factors, increased pace of change and the need of employees to find belief, purpose and a sense of belonging in their work.


  3. New Stakeholders: HR stakeholders have evolved from internal (employees, line managers, organization) to external (customers, investors, community).


  4. Talent Improvement: Improving people, experiences and the workforce through enhanced competence (flow of people into, through and out of the organization), commitment (employee value proposition, sentiment) and contribution (meaning, purpose).


  5. Organizational Competitiveness: Ulrich notes that talent excellence is trumped by organizational excellence. HR impacts the organization through morphology (roles, reengineering, downsizing), alignment/systems (STAR, 7s, Health), capability (known for and good at doing), and ecosystem capability (building capabilities within the ecosystem not just organization).


  6. Collective Leadership: Leadership matters, and understanding leadership evolves from individual leadership to collective leadership.


  7. HR Strategy: An HR function or department requires a strategy that answers three questions: Who we are (partners, allies, experts)? What do we deliver (talent, leadership, organization)? Why do we exist (create value by responding to context or serving stakeholders)?


  8. HR Organization: The structure of the HR department is built on three areas of responsibility: essential/transactional work, business strategy and professional services delivered inside the organization.


  9. HR Leadership: A host of HR practices exist around people, performance, information and work. HR leads business, Ulrich says, when HR practices are innovative, provide solutions vs. practices and are aligned with business strategies to impact results inside and outside a company.


  10. HR Competencies: Today’s organizations want HR professionals to be more personally effective, providing solutions that increase stakeholder value and business results.


  11. HR Technology: HR must play important digital roles to help create a digital business strategy and apply digital information to deliver better HR.


  12. HR Analytics: HR must access and use information to improve HR value creation. This work, Ulrich says, has evolved from a scorecard of HR activities, to insights on general data, to interventions with specific actions and, finally, to impact on business results.


  13. HR Workstyle: While HR structure matters, HR professionals need to build relationships with each other and with those outside of HR. Ulrich adds that the relationships require respecting differences, governing, accepting, and connecting, showing empathy and care for others, sharing experiences and growing together.

"HR’s evolution will continue as current business issues place HR center stage (e.g., digital information age, #MeToo movement) and HR needs to continually upgrade to respond," Ulrich says. "But it is useful to move at this time from business partner 1.0 to business partner 2.0."

He adds: "As these pivots continue, it’s a great time to be in HR."

More information about the 13 dimensions HR must continue to transform can be found on The RBL Group website.

Dave Ulrich is a Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan (, and Partner, The RBL Group (