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Has the ‘Death Knell’ been sounded for HR Business Partnering?

By Anil Prem DSouza

Is the era of HR Business Partnering, in the way that it is designed, in the last stages of its existence?

Many discussions on the real value add of HR Business Partnering are being questioned by business. With Shared Services moving out from the labour arbitrage model to a value add model, increasingly organisations are re-structuring the HR Business Partnering Role into their Shared Services model. The flesh and blood HR Business Partner by your side may be a thing of the past. This is not something that I’m speculating, but actual change that I see taking place in organisations. It is not just HR, many other forms of support functions are facing the same transformation. The transformation is not just in the Corporate world but can also be seen in the medical field too. Doctors being available on call to cater to the needs of people requiring medical advice is not a new thing anymore.


My various workshops for Senior Shared Services Leaders across the globe lead me to meet very interesting people in the Shared Services and Outsourcing world, right from leaders developing Artificial Intelligence Solutions to leaders developing businesses around Social Empowerment for the economically weaker sections. I was one of the speakers in the SSOW India event recently and I came across another bright speaker from a large multinational organisation, which I will call ‘Org X’, who are making this transition into the new HR Business Partnering Shared Services model. The Shared Services Leader was able to convince and implement a model that I had proposed to my management team when I was heading a Shared Services Center in one of my previous companies a few years ago. Some of the top level business case numbers for the entire transition are:-

  • 54 mil USD in HR cost savings
  • Reduction in HR head count by about 40%.

Interesting… Is’nt It?


Why was HR Business Partnering not bound to succeed?


When I transitioned from the Navy to the corporate life of HR in Nokia, it took me a while to understand the concept of HR Business Partnering. When bullets whiz past you or you are in Action Stations in rough weather onboard warships, execution of split second actions or daring acts when an order is passed, is not just the discipline inculcated through the Armed Forces Training rigour. It is also the relationship that Officers and Sailors develop through the Divisional system in the Navy. The Armed Forces does not have a concept of HR Business Partners. Every Officer (Manager in Corporate Parlance) are HR people themselves, motivating and setting the right culture at each step. As officers, you have to appraise every sailor in your division on quarterly performance and also ensure that you are fully aware of the sailor’s background by ensuring the Sailors Service Records are always updated with the latest performance and personal details. This was done with utmost rigour which resulted in every officer knowing their sailors very well, not just professionally but also personally. This is something that I sorely miss in our Corporate World. I come across very few managers who can keep their teams motivated and convert them to high performance teams.


With the advent of HR Business partners, the managers who were to take care of understanding and managing the core competence, performance and motivation levels of an employee eventually have passed it onto HR Business Partners who are conveniently thrusted upon motivation or disciplinary measures to be taken against employees. HR Business Partners slowly started becoming the Organisation’s culture policing teams. Employees, hence do not see Managers as someone that they can look upto as a mentor or a leader. The employees therefore are really not connected to their managers who direct them day in and day out on business critical work. So instead of improving the culture of the organisation, the HR Business Partnering role actually works against it.


So how is HR Business Partnering Transforming?


This is exactly what Org X is trying to solve. “Put the managerial responsibilities back into the Managers”. It’s not that Org X is leaving the managers completely in the lurch. Org X has formed a Shared HR Advisory team (A consolidation of HR Business Partners) based in the Shared Services organisation, that will advise managers on what needs to be done when faced with an employee/team issue. The HR Advisory team will provide all necessary support to the manager. However confronting the employees/team will still be the sole responsibility of the managers. The HR Business Partners will still continue to exist, albeit a handful of them, only for CXO level executives. Their job? To partner with CXO’s for strategic people based decisions which is “True HR Business Partnering.”


Although it is a major change management exercise for Org X, they will however, in time, reap the benefits not just in terms of costs savings but also in terms of an healthier organisation where teams are well managed and connected to enable business operations.


A lot of people might question this move of centralising HR Business Partnering as part of the Shared Services model. But then, with increasing competition amongst businesses, there is a continued need to leverage any potential opportunities and advantages— something that a Shared Services model can offer in terms of improving service quality, cost savings and enhancing core competency of a particular organisation.


On a very different note, we all know that eventually, everything that can be centralised with rules and logic can be automated. The world of Shared Services is suddenly thrilled about RPA(Robotic Process Automation) which can carry out all tasks that humans can do provided you have logic and rules defined. Interestingly, Stephen Hawking in his recent interview with BBC last week mentioned that he worries deeply about artificial intelligence and machines that can outsmart humanity. However, in our ever increasing world of instant dispensing of services, whatever they may be, we are bound to centralise, automate, simplify and contribute to Artificial Intelligence. In this context, it will be a highly interesting time to see how organisations are able to change the way HR Business Partnering works.


Anil Prem DSouza is the Founder & Chief Evangelist Officer of Cbensol, a visionary entrepreneur and thought leader with an evangelist approach to bring futuristic technologies to solve issues in Governance, both, at the Corporate level as well as at individual levels. Currently implementing a Business Shared Services Center for a Saudi Business conglomerate to bring value to their business by an effective and efficient Support Services Model.

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