Changing HR for the better: Facing up to the challenges
Skip to content

No one said it would be easy but hopefully the rebirth of HR will be worth it for HR’s customers and HR professionals alike.  We get a sense that it will be but before we set off the party poppers it is sobering to think about the challenges we still face in transforming HR.

In fact we think it is that important we are dedicating two blogs to this whole issue of HR’s birth pains.

Research, practice and experience have shown a number of issues with the HR Partnership Model – especially the three legged approach.  These arose from a variety of sources – some to do with the imperfection of implementation, others to do with the unintended consequences of such changes.

Here’s the summary list and we’ll explore each of these in more detail in the two blogs:

  •   Changing only the transactional parts of the model is not enough
  •   Who does HR serve?
  •   Blurred HR Boundaries
  •   Organisational or business focus?
  •   The broadness of the HR Partner role
  •   Lack of HR Contact
  •   Who champions employees?
  •   Is there such a thing as a HR Career?

1. Changing only the transactional parts of the model is not enough

Theoretical models are paper constructs – not the reality of organisations. What looked like a good design often resulted in structures with uncertain objectives which were difficult to implement with long pay back periods.

  •   Organisations often ended up only implementing transactions aspects which could be easily assessed using a financial cost benefit model, ignoring the need to change the behaviour and relationships of those in both HR and the business.
  •   While promising much and despite new tools and increased technology, HR professionals, business managers and employees continued to behave as they always had, reducing the benefits of centralisation and standardisation.
  •   Centralisation was forced on aspects of the organisation that were inappropriate and contrary to the marketplace. This created a sense of rigidity that could directly impact business operations.
  •   Expected cost and time savings were often not realised, especially in the time scales promised. There were also often unexpected increases to HR professional salaries as the need for rarer new skills (e.g. relationship management and business acumen) and experience (transforming HR) was recognised and these were rewarded.

The purpose and role of HR was often never agreed.

  •   Organisations rushed into transforming HR without defining or agreeing the new purpose / role of HR and/or understanding the consequences on the business. This resulted in confusion between HR and the business and within HR as to what the new roles of both parties were.
  •   The skills and experiences of HR professionals, in particular the new HR Business Partner role, did not reflect the new expectations of what the business leaders thought they were going to do.

Simply changing job title did not give HR professionals extra skills or knowledge.

  •   Although keen to be more ‘strategic’ and ‘business focused’, many HR leaders did not recognise the need to develop this knowledge and experience in their HR Professionals or the skills to use them. This left those HR staff with new job titles, high expectations but not the necessary talent to implement anything different.

2. Who does HR serve?

A core part of the new HR model was that the HR Business Partner was directly aligned to a business and to the HR professionals themselves as the first contact with their business. This could result in a number of outcomes:

  •   The HR Business Partner becoming the gate-keeper to the business. Rather than increasing the flow of understanding between HR and their business, these HR Professionals blocked understanding, added delays and decreased the effectiveness of the other parts of HR.
  •   The business believing that their HR Partner was ‘owned’ by them and at their bidding. This feeling was reinforced where the business had direct responsibility for the HR Partner’s costs. The HR Partner could be asked to implement HR practices that while good for the business, were not good for the entire organization.
  •   HR Partners could ‘go native’ and align solely against their business initiatives
  •   Corporate HR and Centres of Expertise found they could lose touch with individual businesses and their credibility suffered. A continued lack of exposure to operating issues led to many of them becoming ‘ivory towers’ – professionals that created policies and practices that were impractical (or worse) and not linked to business need.
  •   The alignment of HR Partners to business managers increased the number of stakeholders within an organization that HR felt it had to listen to. Not only did the increase in stakeholders dilute HRs influence, it also increased the implementation time and diluted the intensity of HR organizational initiatives.

3. Blurred HR Boundaries

The creation of the three HR legs coupled with a lack of clarity about their individual roles created tension between the customer facing and operational service centres

  •   Key questions such as “who owns the client?” and “when are specialists bought in?” where left to individuals rather than agreed across the function.
  •   The impact on the business was to create the perception that HR wasn’t in control
  •   The impact on HR was either under-utilisation or duplication of specialist resources, a lack of sharing of knowledge, co-ordination and ownership which could lead to friction, blame and in-fighting.

Getting the right balance between functional, organisation and business initiatives was difficult. When many aspects of work are centralised, it can be difficult to implement functional and business initiatives even where everyone agrees it is the right thing to do.

  •   Operational support i.e. the work between strategic and administration, can become ‘someone else’s problem’. Known in the UK as the ‘Polo’ issue, operational support for programmes such as performance management and salary reviews could fall into a hole at the heart of HR.

The next HR Transformation blog will explore the remaining HR Partnership issues.

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.