Changing HR for the better: Facing up to the challenges (#2)
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We have been exploring in this series of blogs the opportunities and challenges of transforming HR. in particular, this blog continues to explore the issues which HR has faced when it has implemented a HR partnership model.

The first three issues already covered are: Changing the transactional parts of the model is not enough; Who does HR serve? and Blurred HR boundaries.

4. Organisational or business focus?

Initial HR structures tended to align a majority of HR staff towards a business i.e. in HR Partner teams. While this increased customer satisfaction, to also:

  •   Reduced HR’s flexibility to meet organizational needs and move staff to meet temporary business needs
  •   Reduced the transfer of learning between HR groups and professionals
  •   Increased costs and increased the variability of service to the organization

5. The broadness of the HR Partner role

Ulrich’s 1997 book highlighted four key roles that HR Partners should play. These roles were adopted wholesale by organizations despite his concerns regarding inherent role ambiguity and conflict.

The “business partner” title seems to have broadened to the point where it describes a nearly impossible role. Dave Ulrich, 2007

  •   HR leaders subsequently discovered that the skills, experience and knowledge required to perform all four roles were very different and almost impossible to find in a single person. This lead to HR Professionals struggling to understand their own roles let alone explain them to the business
  •   Over the last fifteen years the role of HR has become increasing more complex as organisations and their environments have become more complex.
  •   The rigidity of HR in trying to implement one best model at the cost of a more flexible approach can undermine its credibility.

6. Lack of HR Contact

One of the most significant organizational changes following the implementation of the HR Partnership Model is the change of HR focus from employees to managers.  Research has highlighted that this lack of personal contact by HR with people in the organization can lead to:

  •   Senior managers losing “a feel for what is going on”
  •   Further isolation of HR
  •   A decline of trusting relationships with the workforce
  •   The loss of the employee voice at senior management level
  •   A decrease in employee commitment
  •   Centres of Expertise becoming ivory towers and order takers
  •   Although Shared Services teams are often charged with supporting employees, they centralised and standardised nature of them leads to a loss of internal operational knowledge

7. Who champions employees?

The introduction of the HR Partnership model usually leads to significant reductions in the number of on-site HR and increases the HR: employee ratio.

This can have a significant impact on employees:

  •   Loss of employee confidence in the organization.
  •   Reduction to employee well-being as HR is less concerned with ensuring consistency of organisational justice.
  •   Trade unions have even raised concerns that HR was losing its role as ‘custodian of the rule book’ and ‘provider of organisational consistency’.

8. HR Careers

Given the requirement for new skills and knowledge, as well as significant changes in emphasis e.g. from employees to managers; many HR professionals are concerned about their future career options'

  •   How can they effectively develop the HR Partner capabilities they require?
  •   What if they joined HR to support employees? What is their future career path that allows them to continue to do this?
  •    These changes are slow to be reflected in the career advice and training given potential and new professionals. There continues to be an emphasis on technical knowledge rather than business and relationship skills.
  •   There are an increasing number of senior professionals who have come into the function from other areas of the business. While this is a positive sign that HR is being taken more seriously, does it also mean that traditional HR knowledge is being marginalised, or that HR professionals need to spend time outside of the function if they want to progress?

So the moral of the HR transformation story is to be careful not to expect a miracle cure in an instant. There are many things going right within the HR change movement but equally there are many things which could also trip it up.

To find out how CourageousHR can support the development of your HR Function please email enquiries@courageoushr.com to arrange a call to discuss your specific development needs.