HRBPs: Do you have enough strings to your bow to move forward in your career?

Of the hundreds of junior to mid-level HR professionals in the banking & finance sector I meet each year, I’d confidently estimate that upwards of 60% are targeting a role as an HR Business Partner (or the HRBP’s close cousin, the HR Generalist). And that makes sense… HRBP teams are still the most visible parts of most HR functions in large banks and insurers, and most Heads of HR tend to come predominantly from that background. But does that mean, as a young HR professional mapping out your long-term path, you should stick to the business partnering stream for your entire career? Not at all, I’d argue.

For the last three years, I’ve been managing (and MCing) Emerging Leaders, an event we hold here in Hong Kong at which senior HR leaders discuss their career journeys with up-and-coming HR professionals from a wide range of industries. If there’s one recurring theme that has stood out from these talks, it’s that none of these leaders followed what might be perceived as a ‘conventional’ career path. Every Head of HR who has spoken for us has at some point gained in-depth experience in an unexpected area, usually after their initial stint as an HR generalist. Some have moved into technical areas of HR, such as data analytics, HR systems or international mobility. Others have consulted in areas like talent management or organisation design. Yet others have a background in a totally different area of their business, anything from sales to finance.

I recently read an interview in which Scott Adams (creator of the Dilbert comics) articulated the idea quite succinctly: to be extraordinary, you can either be in the top 1% at one skill, or in the top 25% at two. The same idea applies to an HR career: if you have lofty goals as an HR professional (e.g. you want to be a global head for a major multinational), there are two paths. You can be improbably good solely at HR business partnering. Or, you can combine strong (but realistic) business partnering abilities with solid knowledge in another valuable area, be it a specialist function, the business side, or anything else. I know which of those two strategies is the most achievable!

Does that mean as a mid-career HRBP you should immediately change your role? Of course not. But always keep your next step in mind, and think about how you might eventually add that second string to your bow, be it a move to the business side, a stint managing a less-popular COE area, or even an educational qualification in an area that you wouldn’t normally associate with HR.

Agree or disagree? If you’d like to discuss further – or if you are looking for the next step in your HR career in Hong Kong – get in touch at

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