In an age where agility is prized almost above all other KPIs and timeframes for decision-making are tighter than ever, how relevant is the ‘Ulrich model’ of HR business partners and centres of excellence?
For Sam Neo, founder and chief people officer at People Mentality Inc, that traditional model is still relevant – however, he sees it evolving to match the current reality of more gig workers and having robotics/AI in the mix.
Having worked in various HR roles during his career, including a HR business partner role at Changi Airport Group, Neo understands the unique pressures facing HR. He suggests that in order for HRBPs to deliver value, their role must evolve towards internal consulting and true partnering, rather than simply supporting at the strategic level.
“On the technology front, besides AI there will also be more emphasis on having an analytics team which will provide greater insights to make sounder decisions and ensure that outcomes are more tangible,” he says. “That way, HR will then become more credible and effective.”
A criticism of HR professionals has been that they are too siloed and insular; they know HR but have limited exposure to other areas of the business. Neo says a shift in mindset is required.
“This can be done through various ways such as being involved in other communities besides HR communities, getting business exposure with secondment assignments to the line itself etc,” he says. “The idea is for them to break out of the HR community and go beyond. That will help them broaden their horizon and remove blindspots that can hold them back with their limited view of the business.”
Another way is by adjusting the team composition to include people from different backgrounds. This includes non-HR people and gig workers, which will enable HR teams to move more effectively and adjust to the changing needs from there.
To build agile organisations, Neo says the place to start is by shifting the focus from processes to creating experiences.
“Processes are there to create structure which is necessary for alignment and consistency,” he says. “But that’s not what HR is all about. Instead, HR needs to take its delivery to the next level where we focus on delivering great employee experience. This is key to engaging employees.”
Neo says that approaches like design thinking, whereby HR focuses on the employee experience and touchpoints, means it’s possible to cater to the needs of the employees which in turn, adds greater value to the business.
The HR Avengers
Since setting up his own consultancy, Neo has hatched a concept called The HR Avengers, which was something he developed to focus on the importance of creating value through partnerships and building an ecosystem.
“Within the HR Avengers for People Mentality, I work primarily with HR professionals/consultants, HR tech providers and trainers,” he says. “The HR folks will be there to structure solutions and implement them. HR tech providers are there to automate processes, provide insights and free up time for businesses to carry out higher value-added work. Finally, trainers are there to build competencies for the people and leadership team to ensure growth and effective change.”
This HR Avengers team allows Neo to build a one-stop solution that serves the needs of businesses while ensuring that while we each have our various strengths and weaknesses, we can come together as a team, just like the Avengers, to solve a huge problem collectively.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Neo says. “This started when I realised that there is only so much that I could do alone. I could only go so deep with the limited amount of time and ‘experience’ that I have. Thus, I tried to find a cost-effective way to work and to bring across a strong message about the importance of breaking silos and working with an ecosystem. That’s how the HR Avengers concept came about.”
Neo is of the view that job automation in the HR profession – an issue which has been making headlines in recent years – is not something to be feared. “I actually see it as something complementary and an opportunity for HR to step away from being perceived as a transaction-maker to a value-adding function,” he says. “The automation will essentially free up time to allow HR folks to focus on higher value-added work that is key if it wants to be held in higher regards within the organisation.
That said, he’s aware that HR needs to first equip themselves with the skillsets to be able to do work at the next level. “Failing which, they should definitely be worried about their jobs being made obsolete,” he says.