A Strategically Aligned HR Operating Model

November 15, 2023

The role of HR has undergone significant transformation over the years. Traditionally viewed as a support function focused on administrative tasks, HR now sees itself as a strategic partner in driving business outcomes. However, despite this shift in perception, many HR departments still need help to deliver measurable business value.

Under Ulrich’s human resource business partner (HRBP) design, most or all work delivering measurable business value is supposed to result directly from the efforts of HRBPs, or the HRBPs working closely with subject matter experts in the centers of expertise (COEs). Yet most HRBPs struggle to deliver desired business outcomes. One problem is that too few people in HR focus primarily on business outcomes. The HRBPs alone cannot get it all done, and they get pulled too often into firefighting and away from strategic work (Khan and Millner, 2023). The related problem is that too much work in HR focuses on inward-looking HR processes carried out as “HR for the sake of HR processes rather than desired organizational outcomes.”

In response to this challenge, we propose a pivot in how HR is structured and works to focus more directly on the capabilities required for successful strategy execution. The pivot relies on a combination of two things: (a) a new set of design criteria (objectives) for HR and the HRBPs – delivering the required workforce and strategic capabilities that enable the business outcomes, and (b) new processes for identifying, measuring, and improving the needed workforce and strategic capabilities. Effective implementation of the new processes may require role redesign, competency upgrading, headcount reallocation, and redesigning the whole HR function if needed. This article explores this approach and highlights the key components HR functions must adopt for the new operating model to succeed.