Thoughts about HR and Operating Models

I was stimulated by this “4 stages of HR maturity” graphic, which was shared on a LinkedIn post. I am not sure of the original source.

There were more than 30 comments against the post, all of which were complimentary, saying how useful and helpful they found the graphic. This caused me to have a closer look because I do a bit of operating model work on HR functions and often find that HR strategy is not well defined.

What I want to share here is a critique of some of the content in this graphic, and point out that this kind of “maturity scale”, while seductive, is unhelpful. As my tools, such as the operating model canvas and the value chain map, point out, HR (or any function) needs to define who its customers/beneficiaries are, what value it aims to deliver to these customers/beneficiaries and what work it needs to do to deliver this value. Of course, in some areas an HR function may have an ambition to deliver value, but not yet have the capabilities to fully do so (for example business partnering in many HR functions). The capabilities to deliver this “value proposition” may be “immature”. But, to suggest that there is a maturity scale for the whole of HR is to misunderstand what is going on.

Now to some specifics in the graphic.

First, HR Reputation: HR should aim “to help the organization succeed given the legal context”. Aiming for best practice or external plaudits or just to help the organization be compliant are inappropriate for any HR team. HR exists to help the organization succeed and it should want to have a reputation for achieving this.

Second, HR Customers: HR has many customers and it should be clear about the different customers it has (Board, employees, managers, etc) and the value that it seeks to deliver to each of these customers (reports/advice to the board, services to managers, etc). Phrases like “we are employee champions” or “we are strategists” get in the way. For some customers HR may act as a champion. For other customers, HR may provide strategic support. What is vital is that someone has thought through all of the different customers and their needs, and is clear about what HR is providing to each.

Third, HR Purpose: HR exists to deliver the value (services, etc) that is has been set up to deliver. In some services HR may be delivering basic support. In some it may be delivering innovative solutions. In some it may be impacting external stakeholders. The key is to be clear about the ambition/promise for each service HR is offering. When considering the “service portfolio” some kind of scale, such as implied in the graphic, may be useful. Some HR functions may aim to provide a narrower range of services and others a broader range of services. But the service portfolio that is chosen should depend on the needs of the organization and the capabilities of the HR team. The vast majority of HR functions aim to deliver a broad range of services.

Fourth, HR practices: the scale in the graphic implies that first you need to be able to deliver “essential work” before you can deliver “leading edge” and this before you can deliver “strategy enabling”. This misunderstands the role of HR. As my point under HR Reputation states, HR should aim to deliver “strategy enabling” practices. Delivering essential work is “strategy enabling”. “Leading edge” is not necessarily strategy enabling. First it is impossible to define what is “leading edge”. Second, the pursuit of “best practice” often gets in the way of “helpful practice” because it encourages HR professionals to look at what other companies are doing rather than focusing on what our organization needs.

I could go on. My point is that a graphic like this is seductive, but can lead us away from clear thinking about HR. Tools like the Operating Model Canvas and the Value Chain Map are much more helpful.


About Andrew Campbell

Ashridge Executive Education Focus on strategy and organisation Almost retired!
This entry was posted in HR, OM frameworks and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thoughts about HR and Operating Models

  1. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts Andrew! Great to see a new post 🙂

  2. andrew campbell says:

    Thanks Hans-Christian. I have not been blogging enough recently. So nice to know that you are reading my stuff. Andrew

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