HR Shared Services: Making Strategic Players Out Of Generalists

The recession and continuing economic downturn has prompted much discussion about the strategic role HR operations have to play.

In recent years there have certainly been those HR departments which have adopted a more strategic role, taking business goals and ensuring these can be met with the human capital within their organization.

This shift requires HR professionals to have a different focus. Roffey Park Institute's annual Management Agenda Report for 2011 noted that 49 percent of firms are now undertaking business partnering, up from 42 percent in 2010.

And the majority of the 800 respondents to the survey thought these were successful.

This led Jo Hennessy, director of research at the Roffey Park Institute, to tell HR Magazine: "The HR specialists, such as recruitment or training, are valued far more than the other elements - shared service centers and HR intranet systems."

Making Strategic Players Out Of Generalists

In the pre-recessionary environment generalists, which played a part in the majority of HR functions, were extremely common.

However, the seismic shift which occurred during the economic downturn means that while these generalists certainly still play an essential role within HR departments, specialist skills are also highly prized.

And this could see them realigning to take on a more strategic role within their organizations.

Gary Miles, director of open programmesat Roffey Park, told Personnel Today that he believes in the current climate soft skills in dealing with employee disputes will be important.

"With the austerity measures hitting now and the government enforcing public sector cuts, I think there will be more and more emphasis on employee relations, as companies will need strong HR people to deal with disputes," he said.

Indeed, these skills are likely to be prized both within the public and private sectors, particularly as the latter looks to adopt shared service functions to cope with budget cuts, which are likely in some cases to lead to loss of jobs or the realigning of roles.

Yet providing generalists with a more strategic role is not about simply equipping them with the skills for today, but envisioning what role they will play in the future.
Using People and Relationships

Although there are certain skills which will be more highly prized by organizations following the economic downturn, there is certainly an argument that generalists will have the relationships and organizational knowledge needed to allow HR to take on a more strategic role.

The variety of functions they undertake makes them better able to place business strategy and goals within context, as well as build the necessary relationships with line managers. Indeed, it could be argued that those in a more specialist role lack the knowledge of the varying departments which will be needed to drive through strategy.

But even the requisite knowledge and skills are unlikely to be enough to drive any partnership unless strong working relationships are built.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development previously conducted research which revealed organizations which have a shared sense of purpose are likely to perform those which do not.

It went as far as to claim that ensuring everyone is aligned with the core purpose of the organization is more important than the specific purpose itself.

Respondents that worked within an organization where a shared purpose existed said they were far more engaged than those who did not, but a lack of understanding about the purpose led to demotivation – which could be seriously detrimental during a time of austerity.

Claire McCartney, resourcing and talent planning adviser at the CIPD, said: "The difference between simply having an organizational purpose and having a shared sense of purpose is that the latter is shared by all employees working for the organization and often beyond, to include external stakeholders.

"That is why we insist that an organization's shared sense of purpose is 'the golden thread' to which its strategy should be aligned."

And this is perhaps most important when businesses are looking to not only develop, but also succeed with shared service partnerships.