The Future of HR, part 8: HR heroes in the HR Service Centre

In my professional career I was part-time Personnel Manager for a couple of years. There was a subsidiary with around 200 employees that did not have one so far. Lets call the boss John Whistle. He did not need a Personnel Manager, he said. Everything he needed was done by his secretary, and he was very happy with this arrangement. As he had to follow the orders from HQ, I could come one day a week. And then only talk to him. This was a good start. I drank many cups of coffee with John and after a couple of weeks I was allowed to talk to other people in the organization. After two years my nickname was “Mr. No”, as I (apparently) always said ‘No”, when someone asked if I had a couple of minutes. What could you do in one day per week, of which at least 50% was spend with John, listening to his view on the world, and his views on the morons from HQ specifically.

In many organizations initially there is no HR. The founder is everything, including HR. When the organization grows, the secretary or the administrator takes on some HR tasks. With 200-300 people time has come for the first HR professional to enter (or the secretary/ administrator is promoted to this position). In many traditional organizations of 1000+ people you will find today a full fletch HR department. An HR Director. A group of HR advisors (generalists) often called “HR Business Partners”. A recruitment team. A training & development group and a compensation & benefits specialist. An HR administration, with or without payroll.
The architecture of HR is quickly changing. What does the model HR organization for larger organizations look like? What are the main building blocks?

  • At the core the HR portal. When employees or managers have HR issues, they go to the HR portal. Workflows have been designed for most HR processes, and the portal will guide the client through  the process. Many recurring processes (e.g. performance management) are driven by the HR system. The HR portal also gives access to all kind of online personal development tools and career opportunities.
  • When the HR portal cannot help, employee or manager is referred to the HR service center. Online, via Twitter of by telephone the HR service center can help with more complex or one-off issues. The HR service center can be reached 24/7. The most important people in HR are the people in the service center. A career in HR without a couple of years in the service center is impossible.
  • In addition to the service center there are some specialist groups. A recruitment team. A learning & development team. A compensation and benefits specialist. An HR analytics team.
  • In addition to the above there might be one or more broad HR generalists. They are able to define a sound HR strategy in line with the business strategy. They are able to coach CEO and top team. They orchestrate leadership communications. They focus on talent acquisition and development.

The first three building blocks can be (partly) outsourced. Also the broad HR generalist you do not need necessarily in-house. The CEO might do this herself. Or an external consultant can play this role.
The HR landscape is changing rapidly. The HR people at the front in the service center are key. Different skills are needed here. HR can learn from the hospitality industry and from call centers. Specialist services will continue to be needed, although certain practices are also changing rapidly (see for example the effect of LinkedIn on the recruitment business). A group that will have great difficulty to survive are the HR advisors, the HR people in the middle who are neither top notch HR generalists nor high level specialists. They might be useful in the HR service center, but the profile of most HR advisors is not well suited for high level service jobs.

Dutch translation of this blog post here.

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