Be Relevant – a New Year’s resolution for HR Centres of Expertise

All over the world people make resolutions at New Year and have been doing so since the time of Ancient Babylonians, some 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians made promises to their pagan gods who, provided they kept their word, would bestow favour on them in the coming year.

Today, resolutions are also made to mend the error of our ways over the previous years, to start with a clean slate and to vow that we can and we will do better.

As the business world starts 2018 and we reflect on a year gone by that produced much talk of an augmented workforce and a changing mandate for HR, it is time for HR, and in particular Centres of Expertise (CoEs) to make their promises to the HR gods. In 2018, leading and developing CoEs must make a resolution, a covenant with the HR gods, to be relevant to their HR colleagues, which in turn enables them to be relevant to the business.

There is a reason why CoEs need to make such a resolution

CoEs historically have played a role as the guardians of policy and process in HR functions. They have been positioned to serve as an escalation point for issues and queries in organisations, and the source of strategies and programs delivered across the organisation. However, quite often we observe CoEs as disconnected, working in isolated silos at an organisation level and not collaborating with their HR colleagues on the front lines to understand what the businesses really need.

Leading CoEs – similar to that one friend we all have who constantly improve themselves without needing drastic resolutions – are creating and owning sustainable and scalable workforce programs and HR solutions that incorporate industry best practice and enable the workforce to meet business imperatives. They are relevant because they drive data analytics, research leading practices, and provide thought leadership and subject matter expertise. They do this by collaborating across CoEs and other functions to form connected teams of expertise who construct business relevant and desirable HR solutions.

HR Business Partners are being challenged to be business focused, to deliver strategic people solutions, developed in the context of the business. They regularly go about developing solutions exclusive of the CoE(s). However, while these solutions are often innovative, they do not always solve the root problem and can be inefficient when delivered. There needs to be a balance of bigger picture and business line solutions. For CoEs to be relevant they must bring specialist skills and approaches to design a leading employee experience whilst working in multi-disciplinary teams with the HR Business Partners to design appropriate solutions – in short, they need to co-design.

HR Operations have been moving up the value chain in the services they deliver; those initial shared service functions more commonly now include recruitment, employee relations and analytics. Whilst this enables the CoE to focus less on the administrative tasks, they need to have comfort to release control and then provide expertise to keep a leading process and experience delivered by HR Operations. For CoEs to be relevant they must be connected to HR Operations and release administrative services, enabling the CoE capacity to focus on business relevant solutions.

CoEs in organisations of different sizes

Being relevant for a CoE is easier in large organisations where there is greater capacity within the team. This does not mean that all large organisations get it right. Many organisations confuse the role of CoEs, leaving these teams to deliver operational tasks rather than focusing on furthering the business strategy. Where organisations refocus the CoEs on developing specialised knowledge teams, working virtually and connected enterprise-wide in partnership with the business they are more effective.

In Australia there are many more small and medium-sized organisations where the challenge for the CoE to be relevant is greater – they do not have the luxury of capacity and need to look at different delivery models. Traditionally CoEs are structured around each discipline, such as Strategy, Talent, Remuneration and Learning. However, does it really make sense to have a number of people dedicated singularly on learning or talent development? How often are organisations coming up with new programs, courses or policies? Below we explore three models for CoEs to consider:

  1. The value of agile structures to CoEs: the nature of the problems HR is solving is becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary. HR teams need to start working as agile groups to draw upon true expertise across the organisation to solve challenges in a customer-centric way and develop solutions that are relevant. CoEs can be positioned as centres of capability, drawing upon that capability from across the organisation to work in agile formats, i.e. as a tribe or a squad of tribes when a solution is required. Once a solution is developed, the people bringing that capability may return to their original roles.
  2. Augmented HR: recruitment and talent management have seen significant investment in AI, cognitive assistants and robotic process automation. This improved maturity has resulted in these services being increasingly accessible at lower implementation and running costs for smaller organisations. As a result, CoEs can release capacity and focus on new capabilities. If CoEs are expected to run lean and focused strategic services, these assistants may well be the solution in streamlining the more traditional aspects of their role, clearly carving out the operational nature of their current roles, and releasing resources to focus on human centred solutions to business challenges.
  3. Buy it when you need it: it may be hard to justify having resources in a CoE during ‘business as usual’ phases. This has led to CoE resources performing transactional or operational activities, further diluting their purpose. In small or medium organisations, it can make more sense to buy these capabilities from the outside, or outsource them, when a need emerges, so that internal capabilities are amplified with the right supplementary expertise. Having a provider design and deliver a solution at a point of requirement by leveraging their industry and competency expertise without overburdening your focused CoE is an efficient solution that can deliver significant results for organisations.

There are commentators that talk about ‘blowing up HR’. The way that many CoEs perform would be a target for these views. This is just the sort of thing that has driven CoEs toward requiring this year’s resolution. And 2018 provides a great opportunity for CoEs to prove themselves – to step out of the shadow of the HR Business Partners and deliver employee centric solutions to the critical challenges organisations are facing. For CoEs in any sized organisation it is about being relevant to the business and HR colleagues, stepping away from siloed thinking and embracing agile, multidisciplinary teams.

So repeat after us – “This year I will work more closely with my HR and business colleagues to ensure people programs are highly integrated and delivered efficiently.” And bear in mind, if you do not keep your word, you risk falling out of favour with the HR gods – a place no one wants to be.


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