Deskilled in the search of strategic value
I’ve made my views on the Ulrich model and on Business Partnering known before, particularly the way in which the thoughtless HR profession has adopted it with gay abandon and without proper assessment or analysis. But perhaps the scariest implication of this mindless lemming like approach has been the deskilling of the HR function to a point where I genuinely worry if it will ever be the same again.
When I kicked off my career (and this was only 15 years ago) I started life as a Personnel Officer. I had a couple of client groups and I was responsible for all of their HR requirements. If there was a vacancy I would recruit it, beginning to end, drawing up an ad, sifting CVs, interviewing, making an offer, rejecting candidates and drafting the contract. If we needed to change a structure, I would sit with the manager discuss it, help draw up the profiles, the redundancy selection criteria etc and follow it through to termination and even representing the company at Employment Tribunal.
There were more senior people above me and if I was unsure I would talk it through with them and seek guidance. When I was ready, I left to join another company where my span of control was slightly greater and the level of support slightly less. I moved up a rung. Through all of this I was building up my level of competence, learning new skills. But I was also learning to take responsibility, because if things went wrong it was both my fault and importantly ME who felt the pain.
All of this meant that when I started to manage teams about ten years ago, I knew what they were going through and I knew the pain that they were experiencing and I knew how I could help. But it also meant that I was fastidious about detail, because cock ups tend to be the result of a lack of attention to detail. You can’t rock up at an Employment Tribunal and say, “well I didn’t mean that…” or explain to a candidate why their contract has the wrong terms and conditions on it. I could explain the importance of everything that we did and how it knitted together.
Increasingly over the years, I have found it hard to recruit good HR pros into my businesses primarily because they have a lack of breadth. If you think of the Ulrich model, it doesn’t lend itself to career paths or to movement between the “legs”. Shared service teams are (generally) seen as low skilled administrative functions, specialist teams are exactly that and business partners whilst they may have good consultancy skills lack on the technical side. HR professionals are developing unevenly, the stool is wonky.
Added to this is often a lack of ownership and accountability. If a shared service centre gets something wrong, how often do they feel the pain directly? If the BP feels the pain, how often do they blame it on the shared service centre? And the specialists? In my humble opinion they tend to walk around telling everyone what to do but providing little support or assistance and never really “getting” a business. We don’t like pain, we seek to avoid it, it is in our nature.
So where does all of this take us? Will the next generation of HR Directors have bloodied themselves in operational HR matters, have gone before a Tribunal Chairman, have drafted contracts, completed admin? Will they have cocked things up and had to take complete and total ownership of the issues?
Does it really matter? I think it does.