Human Resources launches new business partner model

woman, two men stand six feet apart
Susan Norton, vice president of Human Resources, stands with Dr. John Sutherland, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, and the college's HR Business Partner Jacob Usry, who serves as a liaison for all things Human Resources to this and all Summerville colleges.

Human Resources is working to create efficiencies through a new business partner model.

“In response to the Comprehensive Administrative Review (CAR), we have been examining the practices within our division to see how we may better serve our organization,” said Susan Norton, vice president of Human Resources. “An emerging practice in human resources, particularly in large-scale organizations such as higher education, is the business partner model. It is becoming a more common way to deliver HR services more efficiently and collaboratively, rather than reactively,” said Norton.

While COVID-19 gained everyone’s attention in 2020, HR quietly worked behind the scenes to pilot the business partner model. The concept can be likened to that of an account executive designated to a particular business or territory in an advertising agency or a reporter assigned a specific beat to cover for the news media.

“Basically, the business partner model integrates all the Human Resources-related tasks of a particular work group or division into one point of contact,” said Jacob Usry, who helped pilot the program as one of the first official business partners in HR for Augusta University.

“Before we launched the pilot, we (as individual HR employees) were more relegated to our specific areas of expertise in Human Resources,” Usry said. This meant that internal customers would reach out to different staff members or a specific department within Human Resources based on their needs, a process he described as “more siloed.”

“This new business partner model is a one-person concept. That one core HR person handles all the HR needs,” Usry explained. “For example, if you have a recruitment need, you can go to your designated HR business partner; if you have a staffing need, you can go to that person; if you have an Employee Relations need or a compensation need, you can get assistance from that same person.”

Usry serves as a business partner for the Summerville Campus, and his customers are deans, administrators and other leaders within the College of Science and Mathematics; the Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; the Hull College of Business; the College of Education and the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

Also helping pilot the program was Melanie Riney, who coordinates the HR needs for the Georgia Cancer Center and all of the MCG Basic Science departments. “The plan is for me to do everything HR-related for the departments and internal customers in my areas,” said Riney. “I work closely with the Medical College of Georgia, and I will be working with most of the university’s research areas.

The responsibilities that a business partner can help with in the hiring process alone include critical hiring, job postings, reclassifications, arranging interviews, extending job offers and scheduling physicals for new hires. Hiring for research positions is more atypical of other recruiting and onboarding, because it involves scientists, grants and other unique factors, and Augusta University recruits candidates from all over the world.

“I have about 100 people and 20 core faculty with their own labs,” said Cindy Tuttle, a department administrator in Vascular Biology for the Medical College of Georgia and a 35-year employee of the university. “We do a lot of hiring. We operate many labs and a significant number of grants are involved. It works out so much better having the one contact person.

“Previously, I would place a call through to Classification and Compensation or send an email and wait for a response. But now, instead of my trying to track down and get in touch with each HR person for every request, Melanie does it for me,” Tuttle said.

This is one of the main benefits of the business partner model. It helps Human Resources function more efficiently while also relieving administrators, deans and other leaders of HR tasks, so they can work more efficiently too.

“We have been able to plan better for the future by having a more 1:1 approach with our schools and colleges,” said Usry. “A business partner’s ability to collaborate more closely with our provost, deans, VPs, department chairs and administrators to more directly and efficiently plan and execute their needs frees them to focus on their strategic priorities and day-to-day operations.”

“It’s a great system and much more efficient,” said Tuttle, as she described Melanie’s new expertise in the Classification and Compensation function of research recruitment, resulting in the approval and posting of positions more swiftly.

“Melanie is very responsive, she follows up and responds quickly,” said Tuttle. “She sees our goal and the vision. She doesn’t want to see our research slow down. She wants to see us successful.”

“When the colleges and leaders feel like there is someone in their corner, dedicated to their needs, a level of trust is built,” said Usry. “Gaining trust is a key factor in the success of this venture.”

Melanie agrees. “That concept of relationship-building has been paramount,” she said.

“Human Resources is excited that the pilot proved successful and helped us meet our objective of improving services to our customers,” said Norton. “We are also thrilled that we have been able to expand this model and are on the path to adopting this fully for university HR services.”

Since the pilot began, at least three more Human Resources professionals have been selected to serve as HR business partners for the university.

“We are committed to deliver exceptional HR programs and services efficiently and effectively to our colleges, schools and divisions,” Norton said, “and the HR business partners are critical to fulfilling this commitment.”

For more information, email Jacob Usry at or Melanie Riney, or call 721-1523

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Denise Parrish
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Denise Parrish

Denise Parrish is Senior Communications Strategist for Operations at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-721-9566 or mparrish@augusta.edu.

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Denise Parrish Written by Denise Parrish

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