Featured What 18 years of the Ulrich model has meant for HR

Published on May 23rd, 2014 | by Orion Partners


The good, the bad and the ugly

What 18 years of the Ulrich model has meant for HR

It is hard to recall a management theory that has had a more profound impact on HR services than the work of David Ulrich.  In the 18 years since ‘Human Resource Champions’ was published, 95% of large organisations have undertaken some form of HR transformation activity and more than half of them have deployed an HR service model based on his theories.

We wanted to know what impact this had had on a generation of HR services; our survey looked at over 40 organisations with a total employee base of 2.5m people.  We asked them how they had transformed their HR functions and what impact the Ulrich model for HR had had.  The results were in part reassuring but also delivered some very clear messages for where HR should be going in the future

The good

Over three quarters of our survey agreed that the Ulrich model has had a positive impact on HR services.  Compared to 10 years ago 90% said they were more commercially focused, 90% said HR capability was higher and basic measures of efficiency such as HR:Staff ratios had a ‘positive direction of travel’.

So this is good news – isn’t it?

The bad

Clearly things are better in HR then they were – but ‘better’ is not the same thing as ‘best’.  We found that a large proportion of HR functions (70%) still suffer inconsistent levels of service in HR operations and many admit to ‘failing to get the basics right.  Despite the progress, this is surely disappointing after a generation of change?

Nor are things perfect outside the shared service centre.  One of the primary justifications for HR transformational activity is the opportunity to embed senior HR business partners directly in the businesses they serve to support the strategic needs of the business.  However, we found that a sizeable proportion of these roles (45%) still admit to carrying too much transactional activity and 63% still fail to get that elusive ‘seat at the table’.

The ugly

Perhaps the most alarming results came when we looked at the role of the centres of expertise which is where most of the major talent processes tend to reside.  More than 97% of the organisations we surveyed said that people issues were ‘highly important’ or ‘business critical’ for their organisations.  That being the case we might expect to see a corresponding level of attention placed on talent management.

Orion_InfographicDocument_WEBHowever 75% of organisations did not have an approach to talent management that integrated the main processes (recruitment, performance, learning, compensation and succession) and only 37% had dedicated specialists in each of these areas.  Not surprising then that 83% believe that talent management is the ‘poor relation’ in HR and has not fared well in the transformational changes of the last 10 years.

We have seen no evidence that the Ulrich model itself has hindered the talent management process but it seems clear that the development of centres of expertise in line has not kept pace with the original concept of the Ulrich model and that the emphasis has been on the development of efficient and effective HR operations at the expense of business partner and talent management roles.

Clearly this must be seen in context.  It is difficult for HR to get a ‘seat at the table’ if basic operations cannot be trusted.  But given the potential offered by talent management to raise performance levels in the business, isn’t this where future priorities should be placed?

The key findings of our survey are published in a summary report available for download here .  A detailed report is available on request by contacting allanboroughs@orion-partners.com


About the Author

Orion Partners is a Talent, Leadership and HR consultancy who believe every organisation has the talent they need. The organisation just needs to identify and develop that talent and because this involves change we also believe it is essential that our clients can deliver transformational change in their leaders, HR and employees. Orion helps organisations create and deliver leadership and talent solutions aligned with their business strategy and ensure their HR teams have the right process, capability and technology to deliver on it.

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