HR Strategy

Time to turn the Ulrich Model into a Digital Delivery Model

Written by Rob Scott for Inside HR

The Ulrich model of HR delivery has been the cornerstone framework of HR for the past 20 years, but in light of the newly emerging digital world, modern HR must adapt to become agile and remain effective, says Rob Scott

There is no denying that all of us are on a digital transformation journey. Our work environments and operating models are feeling the strain of being caught between more traditional business operating models and the newer, agile demands of techno-digital environments. Deciding whether to toss out the old approach or focus on a more evolutionary adaptation of your existing ways can be a daunting decision to make for HR leaders.

The Ulrich model of HR delivery, developed by Professor David Ulrich 20 years ago, has been a solid guiding framework in full or part for most HR functions globally. And even though the model has been contested over the years, the building blocks of the model; HR Shared Service Centres (SSC) for administration, Centres of Excellence (CoE’s) for content expertise and the HR Business Partner (HRBP) for business alignment, have worked – so why change something that ‘ain’t broke’?

The underlying design principle of the Ulrich model has been about effective and streamlined connectivity between the elements of HR and business operations and strategy. It was built on assumptions that were pre-digital age. But the digital work environment has introduced new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, Cognitive computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), new thinking styles such as Design Thinking, Evidence-based decisions supported by deep-dive Data Analytics as well as a deluge of demographic, ethics and loyalty impacts. As HR professionals, the worse thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand and fall prey to the Normalcy Bias, believing things will always function the way things normally function. We need to consider how a digital environment is changing the way the workforce is empowered, interacts and connects.

“The Ulrich model as a framework is still a relevant HR operating model, but the transition from the old roles to the new ones is an important adjustment required to support digital work environments”

In a Digital world, HR must respond and adapt quickly to changes which impact your business, whether that be through external competitiveness or internal innovation. This will require the roles of the HRBP, SSC and CoE to transform into ‘early warning’ detectors and predictors which can seamlessly morph into problem-solving guru’s and inform the creation of relevant and unique HR solutions. How should these roles change?

HR Business Partner » Alignment Agent

Modern HR technology, digital and automation tools fully empower line managers to be effective in hiring, managing and developing their staff. It’s time to get beyond playing the quasi-admin role for line managers. The Alignment Agent is externally focussed around your organisation’s supply chain and customers, ensuring HR solutions are adding customer-focussed value in line with business strategies and advising line managers and executives on required changes. The new Alignment Agent is seeking out business issues from a people perspective and doing problem-solving with data analytics.

Shared Service Centre » Analytics Engine Room   

As Automation and Robotic Processing takes over administrative tasks and AI replaces more complex HR admin tasks, the admin centre becomes obsolete but is reborn as an Analytics Engine Room that supports business problem solving and provides predictive capability to business leaders. Their outcomes inform future HR solutions. The future SSC employee is a data scientist or analyst. The engine room is not HR centric only, but can be part of a broader analytics entity or could be an outsourced service.

Centre of Excellence » HR Solution Provider

The new CoE will still require deep-skilled and experienced HR practitioners who will remain the thought leaders for appropriate people practices. They will be responsible for developing and deploying solutions which are identified by the new Alignment Agent and use data-driven outcomes from the Analytics Engine Room to validate their solutions. Solutions are not always standardised and can be focussed on providing the best solution for a part of the business.

The Ulrich model as a framework is still a relevant HR operating model, but the transition from the old roles to the new ones is an important adjustment required to support digital work environments.  It requires forward thinking executives and HR leaders to recognize the different demands of a future workforce and workplace, and an acknowledgement that technology, applied in the right way, is empowering employees and workplaces to be super-agile, and achieve significantly more. HR must change.

Some takeaway messages

  • The classic Ulrich model of HR has been the cornerstone of HR delivery for most organisations. It’s a good model, but it needs to be aligned to the emerging digital work environment
  • Much of what HR Business Partners and HR Shared Services Centres do is administrative in nature. The available HR software, automation and AI tools now available will completely change how these mundane activities are done. The Ulrich-defined roles must adapt
  • The old HR Business Partner role needs to drop the line manager ‘hand-holding’ style of management – Modern HR tools make line managers completely self-sufficient
  • Shared Services as we know it will disappear as administrative tasks are automated or managed by AI. A major skill refocus is needed to change these entities into Analytic Engine Rooms

HR heading for divorce battle over custody of Performance Management

divorceOriginally published by Inside HR 

The opportunity is ripe for HR to broaden its performance management definition and join forces with other performance management system owners within their organisations to establish a complete workforce performance framework, writes Rob Scott

A few years ago, HR functions would have been acknowledged as the custodian and owners of performance management together with the supporting technology. And if you went searching for a new performance management solution, you would struggle to find anything outside the HR technology vendor community.

But many would argue that traditional performance management has been less than successful in improving employee performance and business value over the last 50 years, and at most it was an annual or bi-annual exercise in HR process compliance by line managers and their subordinates. This naturally gave rise to alternate performance management solutions outside the HR framework.

Another trigger for change has been the move to the digital era. Modern technology has allowed the workforce to be increasingly mobile to the extent that jobs and location can be decoupled. The structure and nature of the workplace and workforce are radically transforming while the definition of an employee is largely irrelevant as more and more forms of “peripheral” work engagements are used. Contingent workers, “giggers”, freelancers, autonomous self-directed teams, agency workers, and outsourced/insourced teams are now part of the workforce fabric.

“Performance management can no longer be done in a standardised way, rather it must cater for the specific type of engagement relationship”

Generally the HR function hasn’t included these peripheral workers on their performance management radar, mainly because they are not permanent employees, are not linked to career or succession plans, are often not hired onto the core HR system, the performance process doesn’t cater for short-term activity or teams, or HR has no control or authority over their appointment. Most HR technology vendors have focussed their recent performance management software updates around the shift from rigid annual reviews of goals and objectives to tools that facilitate ongoing communication, coaching and mentoring of permanent employees. What they haven’t done is deal with effective measurement of and feedback to peripheral workers.

But away from HR’s eye’s other software systems, typically owned by operations, finance, marketing or procurement, tools such as Workforce Management (WFM), Contingent Workforce Management (CWM), accounts payable, freelance platforms, industry talent pools, social engagement platforms, social media platforms and others are actively geared to track performance against goals, assess quality, track activity through Internet of Things connectivity, provide team, company or individual feedback, and inform “re-hire” decisions.

Over the next five years, the size of the peripheral workforce will continue its upward trajectory. Analysts generally expect this number to be as high as 40 per cent of the total workforce by 2020. Even today, most new jobs created in Australia are part-time. Irrespective of the employment type, managers still need to focus and align their workforce to achieve their organisational and business specific objectives in the most efficient way.

“Continuity, engagement, feedback, opportunity and development are the collective cornerstone of an employer value proposition”

Performance management can no longer be done in a standardised way, rather it must cater for the specific type of engagement relationship. Some employees will still require traditional cascading-goal performance management, others may need social goal-setting and peer review, while others simply need a star rating and re-hire indicator.

Performance management now has co-ownership. The opportunity is ripe for HR to broaden its performance management definition and join forces with other performance management system owners within their organisations to establish a complete workforce performance framework. Continuity, engagement, feedback, opportunity and development are the collective cornerstone of an employer value proposition – it will be hard to achieve or maintain this if close to half the workforce is not included in a performance framework.

5 key considerations for HR

  • HR departments are no longer the sole custodians of performance management solutions.
  • The shift towards the digital economy has given rise to a new type of workforce which is not bound by time, location or permanency. Their performance management needs are significantly different to permanent full-time employees.
  • Modern operations management, procurement, financial and marketing software solutions cater for relevant forms of performance management and feedback.
  • Organisations need a workforce performance framework which is underpinned by choice and appropriateness rather than a single standardised approach to management of performance.
  • As the contingent labour force increases as a percentage of total workforce, greater urgency is needed to build strong relationships with these teams and individuals through new performance management approaches and tools.

Why the CFO said HR was easy to learn

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Photo credit: Wei Xuan Seow – flickr

I recently co-facilitated a discussion forum between a group of CFO’s and CHRO’s on the importance of their relationship in building business value. During a question on what skills each other should build to understand the other role, an attending CFO said “It would be easy for a CFO to learn HR, but not the reverse”.

There was stunned silence from the room as the heat rose from the attending CHRO’s – they weren’t sure if they had just been told they were less capable, less intelligent or simply would never be considered an “equal” to the power and status of a CFO.

Was the CFO correct?

From the perspective of: CFO right or wrong?
Education and qualifications: Both roles are considered specialist functions which have underlying professional adherence. The CFO learns to comply, manage and manipulate a set of globally defined rules to legally reflect the financial value of their organization. The CHRO complies with medical ethical standards related to psychology and social science practices. Both qualifications are professionally recognized and offer advanced degrees to support this. WRONG
Complexity of the role. At the basic level, CFO’s take their guidance from GAAP and legislation in terms of how they execute the outcomes of their role. They are generally instrumental in guiding the organization in terms of maximising financial value, reducing and effectively managing cost, effective use of capital, maintaining investment community confidence through accurate reporting, analysing financial risk and proposing corrective actions. The CHRO has different complexities to deal with as “people” and society are well, people. Rules for people are less defined or prescriptive. CHRO’s who don’t operate as administrators can juggle 40+ different interrelated elements across people, process, organization, legislation, technology and governance to create business value through people. WRONG
Perception: The CFO is typically regarded as highly important, particularly for listed companies – mainly because their outputs reflect the success of the CEO and other executives, and the consequences of anything untoward in financial outputs could result in serious organizational and personal ramifications. In many organizations, HR is often perceived as an Administrative function with little clout at the C-Level. This is often true when HR has low levels of Maturity and spend most of their time executing operational transactions. In most cases this would be easy to learn. RIGHT

 

So the CFO was both right and wrong, but we should be cautious to blame the CFO for his views. We can assume that in this case, the HR leaders the CFO has interacted with have probably been of a lower maturity level, more administratively focused and had executive leadership who have yet to realize the importance and value of Human Capital  from a shareholder perspective.

For a CHRO or CFO to really learn each others jobs would not be easy. Yes, you could easily learn the stuff like administration and basic accounting, but the underlying knowledge is far more complex than meets the eye.

How does your CFO view HR?

 

Has Technology Weakened HR?

Picture: 周小逸 Ian : Flickr
12 May 2016

This seems somewhat of an odd statement to make in todays technology obsessed world – surely HR technology has allowed People practitioners to greatly improve efficiency by reducing manual and paper-based activities, improving data access & reporting, reducing errors, helping employees make better decisions and ensuring compliance to policy and procedure.

This is of course true at a transaction level, but herein lies the problem. The way vendors have generally designed HR technology is not an accurate reflection of how professional HR and Talent managers think, nor does it signal an understanding of the complexities in Professional HR Management. In fact the slicing-up of HR into different software modules along ‘logic’ and ‘transaction’ lines of thinking has created and perpetuates the view that HR is simply a set of somewhat loosely interrelated basic transactions.

And surely that can’t be too difficult to get right! ah, yeah!  But yet time and time again we see HR functions under attack for poor performance and low value contribution. With these perceptions abound, no wonder there is doubt among some C-levels that HR is needed.

If only HR Management was so simple and logical. But it isn’t. There are a significant amount of people dimensions used by HR professionals which are not logically inclined or lend themselves to be developed into a ‘transaction’, let alone a software module. Think about important people management facets such as ‘Ethics’ , ‘Style’, ‘Diversity’ and ‘Values’ – these are key HR influences in achieving particular strategic business outcomes, and they are fundamentally intertwined into such things as learning, performance, development, communication and knowledge sharing. But they are ‘non-existing pieces’ in the HR software puzzle.

This is not a jibe at HR Software vendors. In fact some vendors clearly understand the impact of these gaps and are working hard to address them. Particularly those vendors who are focused on superior technical integration between modules.

They realize that while they have in many cases reduced HR to modular transactions to make it easy for end users, they also understand that the all-important ‘HR complexity value factor’ is partly resolved when effective and seamless integration across these modules occurs. The combination of modular interaction offers some support in achieving strategic HR objectives. Keep going vendors, there is lots more to do in this space!

HR Technology has inadvertently contributed to a weakening of professional HR outputs, but the finger should however point directly at the HR leader who has allowed the function to be reduced to a set of modules and transactions.

It’s an easy way out for poor performing HR leaders, and provides an opportunity to shift the blame onto technology. Professional HR management is not an easy job, in fact it is highly complex, with over 40 major elements or activities being continuously juggled to produce desired business outputs. Those that are successful also understand how HR technology should be used and positioned to enable people to achieve great things.

Do you have an opinion on this?

Your future HR System will “Persuade” you

It isn’t a new idea that computers, mobile phones, websites and wearable technologies can be built in ways which influence your behaviour or causes you to think in a new way over time. While one could argue that this is akin to brainwashing, when used appropriately it can be very beneficial to end users as well as system owners. Just think how your smart-phone or Fitbit health band has altered your behaviour without you realizing it.

The idea of “persuasive computing” was first coined around 1990 by Standford University researcher Dr BJ Fogg. Much of his current work centres on teaching technology developers the psychology of behavioural change, and how to facilitate behaviour change via their technologies. Hello, isn’t this what HR people are supposed to be good at given that Psychology is the foundation of most HR professionals education? It begs the question as to why HR software vendors have not built their solutions with more “persuasive computing” thinking which could motivate end users to behave in a way that would benefit themself, HR and the organization.

Most HRIS vendors have developed visual dashboards, alerts and many use gamification techniques to encourage end users to do things, but in my view these are largely fear based design principles rather than motivational ones. These vendors are wedded to the “principle of standardization” ~ that a system process should be applied consistently to all users irrespective of their current habits, behaviours or motivation level. We need HR software that takes an individual’s current state as a base-line and uniquely “shapes” the HR software to suit that user. In the process of “shaping”, the end user is more likely to react in a particular way, do things suitable to their current state of behaviour & motivation level all while providing HR with a platform to influencing future behaviour of that individual.

BJ Fogg makes a great point that we cannot do complex things when our motivation level is low. Likewise we have windows of opportunity to do hard and complex things when our motivation level is high. SaaS HR tools in particular gather a lot of important Meta data that could quite easily be used to measure a users’ current state of motivation or other states of mind. When a users motivation is low for example, the HR system should “reshape” to encourage easy activities, while taking advantage of times when the end user has high motivation to get more difficult and perhaps more things done, while at the same time facilitating behaviour change so that these hard tasks become easy over time and can be done when motivation is at a lower level.

As HR people, our goal must be to think outside our rigid and standardisation boxes. To much of what HR achieves in our organizations are “feats of compliance” rather than value adding benefits. This is because we are standardisation-centric rather than employee centric. I would much rather a line manager do HR tasks that he or she is motivated to do, which add real business value and develop correct habits which facilitate personal growth in effective people management than forcing a person to comply to something because “HR says so!” – technology can help us achieve this.

There’s a greater role for HR software than simple process and transactional efficiency. For a tool that has so many components linked to people behaviour, we need vendors who understand persuasion and behaviour change though technology to come to the party.