Shared Services Model and the Rebirth of Human Resources as a Field


By, Cari Desiderio

HR has undergone a transformation in the past decade.  Some find it frightening. Some are part of this transformation and leading it and in so doing making themselves more valuable as HR business partners than ever before. Much like the symbolic meaning of the polar bear (rebirth and transformation) this can be a frightening and exciting journey for us in the field.

Not too many of us in the field know how it came to be. We all felt the change when it impacted our organization.  For me the first shared service model was implemented when I worked at a company that had just hit 35,000 employees in 2010.  We rolled out a model where our central Denver team had a HR call center, a file retention team, legal support and shared recruiting.  At the time this was new but very welcome to me. I was able to spend the majority of time on some key projects.  We reorganized our insurance call center to increase employee performance. I was freed up to have more plane time to spend time with my field teams throughout the US. I was able to create some new training on performance ownership and change management and teambuilding. We even were able to dedicate more time to succession planning and creating development plans for our critical retention group.  At the time I wasn’t truly thinking about the roots of what I now see as the revolution of HR.  But as I felt the benefits of it, it made me a believer.

I am now on the side of the administration simplicity team.  I am creating the strategic value equation for HR leaders in the field by creating a piece of the shared recruiting services, recruiting.  I’ve enjoyed having both vantage points.

The reality is that we are over ten years into this new way of doing HR.  David Ulrich was the architect.  I have only worked for one Fortune 500 Company in my career so admittedly my initiation into this “new way” of doing HR was perhaps a little late to bloom.  But as I’ve experienced it I know that there is probably no going back.  With globalization and the omniscient demand to do more with less, more with less, more with less, as we compete across continents and with two countries triple the size of the US, the game has changed.  How can I create human capital value that will service India, China, Latin America, Europe, Asia, The Middle East and the US?  Certainly I cannot serve every personnel need alone.  Rather, the concept of carving out each function and creating a center of excellence model is a brilliant solution.  Create a labor relations legal team to stay attuned to the legal climate on a global scale and build a team of partners with global background.  Build a recruiting team with talent acquisition personnel in different countries, and give them visibility to a CRM tool that can help them place multiple roles in multiple geographies because they have the right visibility and the right focus time to just recruit.  Create a call center to be able to handle the basic “HR 101” questions and give them a database with access to all of the local and regional policies, benefits programs, global HRIS data, etc.  Build a learning team to run the LMS and build curriculum and training plans. Then of course have field HR leaders who can focus on the client facing work. Essentially the administrative pieces of HR are consolidated, streamlined, made scalable and handled by shared services. Then the field HR staff can focus on being change leaders, employee engagement advisers and HR business partners for all of the necessarily employee/manager facing activity.

On the whole, this new vision for HR is a brilliant one. I remain a firm believer. This said, it is not without issues that must be addressed.  The first issue is a combination of skill evolution and perception of threat.  If HR professionals are not shown the value proposition and logic of this journey into shared services, they can be caught unaware and experience great stress.  Some may see the central team as a threat to their job.  Hopefully this issue can be addressed by transitioning most team members into new roles on the future state HR team.  This can only be successful however if the HR professionals are prepared for this skill change.  Personally I made the choice to move from a long career as a HR generalist leader, into a functional role.  For me this is something I see as a period in my career to grow out a critical skill set in the area of talent. However, to prepare for this I had to immerse myself head first in learning just what it means to be spending 100% of my time on a function I had previously spent only 20% of my time on.  I had to learn new skills.  If a company prepares their HR partners for this skill evolution, then they can address both the threat (will I lose my job) and the potential talent short fall (being put into a functional role for which one is not prepared).  The third issue to address is really about boundaries and working together in the new environment.  As the field staff moves to relinquish many of their day to day tasks to the shared service team, the two teams need a leader to help build trust and respect and rapport. If the team has any hint of “us versus them” then the new model may be a failure.  Rather, to see the new model as one that is complimentary is the goal.  This requires clear roll out of the new process, a definition and delineation of “who owns what piece of the HR Process” and, lastly, some real strong training and team building efforts should be tended to in order to build rapport across the central team and the field team.

In any event, shared services is here to stay as long as we live in a global and competitive world. It is the only way to make our field scaleable and strategic.


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