If you search “Business Partner” as a role in a job search site, you will find literally thousands of jobs with this title.  As ubiquitous as it may be, the role is often very different in various organisations.  Yes, as the term suggest, a Business Partner, engages in partnering- but what does that even mean?  In some organisations it will be about hand holding leaders and colleagues, attending to transactional and operational needs.  In some organisations the role will operate at a very strategic level and be involved in key decisions and activities along with members of the senior team. 

Photo credit: Toa Heftiba

So, what dictates the difference?

I don’t think it’s about the organisation, the leader or the culture.  My view is that it is about the capability of the Business Partner. 

Now have you ever cooked a dish to find out that it is edible, but it is missing something.  You might cook the same dish time and time again, for months and even years, only to realise at some point that you were missing a key ingredient, and once added, your dish popped and rose to the leader board of best meals ever.  Your previous dish was fine.  But your new ingredient and slightly amended cooking process changed the dish.  There is no way you are going back to your previous version. 

The capabilities required to be a highly valuable Business Partner are not really known, until you experience them and realise what these capabilities provide.  Without them you still have a Business Partner that you will use, but they may not pop, like my dish.    

There is no clear definition of a great Business Partner, but you know when you have a great one and when you don’t.  A valuable Business Partner contributes to a broad range of initiatives outside their area of technical expertise, because they have a strategic mindset and they have organisational awareness. They are able to draw insights from complexity and communicate ideas eloquently and simply.  They are personable, have a genuine interest in collaboration that they know that trust underpins all relationships.  Above all they work intently to drive business value, and if they don’t, there is really no point having them there.

Many Business Partners lament that they aren’t involved in strategic issues.  They are desperately looking for a seat at the table.  My advice to them always is that to move from irrelevant at the extreme to being highly valued, they need to earn their ticket to play by demonstrating the value they bring to their organisation, their leader and the team.  They need to do this consistently.  This builds their credibility and demonstrates their value.

My advice for Business Partners is to experiment with different ingredients and approaches, and you will go from being a dish that is fine, to one that is outstanding.  That is when you will know that the business needs what you bring.

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