The New HR Reality – Implications for Development within the HR

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         The New HR Reality – Implications for
         Development within the HR Profession
(An extended version of an article in the Executive-Grapevine Magazine, February 2007 –
                          Incl. in HDA Review, January 2007)
                              Clayton Glen, Director – HDA

 HR Ain’t what it Used to Be

 Five developments in the past decade have swung the broad HR community towards a
 far more critical self-questioning, and have led to significant HR capability

     1. the ‘’business partnership’’ movement which has, in some sectors and
        industries led to the creation of a ‘’strategically-focused’’ business partner elite,
        together with the compartmentalization of technical specialists, (ER, Comp and
        Bens, Recruitment, etc) and typical transaction-based HR elements, (Payroll, etc);

     2. the growth of e-HR, and HR automation;

     3. the centralisation of HR within shared services in some larger organisations;

     4. the prevalence of HR outsourcing, resulting from 1. in particular;

     5. the increased prevalence of HR offshoring to the Far East in particular, linked to
        outsourcing and e-HR - a more recent trend leading to a range of dramatic
        predictions about the future (or lack thereof) of the HR discipline as we know it

 Along with these five developments, an array of convincing business writers have created
 an unattractive view of the HR community, including common themes around HR’s
 inability to accurately measure its organisational value and impact, and HR’s inability to
create a truly strategic role for itself – the implications including a number of
commoditizing trends above.

The HR Transformation Gap: New Required Competencies vs Old Raw Material

As an ex HR Director who has worked globally; one thing that can be said about the UK
HR community, is that it is quick to innovate, and to lead new global trends – including
the trends mentioned above. At one level this tendency to innovate (experiment?) means
that the benefits of transformation come quicker; at another level it means that more
outright failures and dissonance are likely than in most other places, where
transformation is slower – and the number of business partnership and outsourcing
failures (in particular) are growing.

It feels to me from the many HR people I come into contact with as a consultant, that
we have reached a point of dissonance – we have embarked on fundamental change
processes within HR, without having complete clarity about how we now need to develop
the awareness, expertise, knowledge and aspiration to create a ‘new HR’. This is
particularly difficult for a discipline better known for its lack of empowerment than it’s
commercial expertise. So, the challenge is a tough one.

A case in point is the all-too-typical example of the HR Manager re-positioned as ‘HR
Business Partner’, but clearly lacking the specific skills, knowledge, and in many cases
intellect, basic business savvy and motivation to competently carry out the role in a way
which leads to both success and credibility within the organisation. A case of supply not
matching demand, albeit that the formative thinkers like Ulrich and so on have done a
credible job of identifying the requisite competencies. The competencies are new, but as
yet, the raw material is by and large the same. New model, new competencies, but old
education and (many of the) same faces.

Thinking about New Careers within HR

Before entering consultancy, my career development in HR included time at different
stages of my career in L&D, OD, Generalist HR, ER, Management Development,
Recruitment, and International Compensation and Benefits. This felt like a relatively
normal development process for a person developing a broad and reasonably deep
career within HR. At all stages of my career I viewed myself as an agent of
organisational transformation, and a strategic advisor (partner?) to my organisation, and
coach to my manager colleagues – albeit that my views may have been naive.

Following my MBA, which one of my employers encouraged me to take up, my sense of
my ability to directly impact the commercial success of my organisation was enhanced –
principally as I was now more commercially empowered. At no stage of my career
though did I feel that I was either strictly a specialist, or that my advisory role was
specifically circumscribed within a specific framework. This was a useful, flexible and
empowering place to be as an HR professional.
Within the current HR landscape though; it feels that many of the career development
options I enjoyed, are narrowed – for example, how do specialist HR practitioners make
a logical move into a strategically-focused business partnership role, without the
opportunity to ‘learn’ this role via a seamless experience-gaining process that crosses the
specialist/business partner barrier ?

Similarly, ‘where to’ for the early-career HR transactional person operating as part of an
outsourced HR service? Depth of learning within a narrow transactional belt creates a
low value-add specialist – both from a delivery and career growth perspective – and it is
difficult to spot how lateral learning, empowerment and personal career progression
within HR happens easily within this scenario.

Whereas in the past, HR career progression opportunities were quite flexible for those
who wanted to broaden and deepen their experience, (very often those who progressed
fastest to true strategic partnership roles), the new more structured reality means that
old ways of thinking about HR careers are outdated, and must change.

Conclusion: Narrowing the Gaps

Whilst the likes of the CIPD and SHRM are certainly encouraging a new commercial
awareness amongst their new and existing members, something far more fundamental is

   •   Education ahead of a career in HR needs to change to raise the barriers to entry
       within a community with traditionally low entry barriers – how this is structured
       should better ‘weed out’ those who are truly not likely to ‘get it’ at the strategic
   •   Far more fundamental commercial questions need to be asked of new entrants to
       the field to test their understanding of business drivers and how their activities
       can impact these;
   •   HR community development needs to take into account its role as a steward of
       competitive thinking, and HR teams should be familiarized with this role;
   •   Current senior HR teams should be encouraged to take up broadly ‘business-
       focused’ vs strictly ‘HR-focused’ vocational learning, eg. encouraging participation
       in MBA or mini-MBA programmes vs the still prevalent inward-looking Masters-in-
       HR-type programmes;
   •   Senior HR professionals and teams should receive structured and regular
       coaching – both to help them to manage transition, but also to expose them
       directly to a more expansive approach to thinking about the value of their role –
       what adds value and what doesn’t is often difficult to see without external
       coaching guidance.

Having reached a point of dissonance we have to put in structured effort at a number of
levels (education, recruitment, training, career opportunities, coaching…) which enhance
expertise, knowledge, commercial awareness, commercial effectiveness and aspiration to
create a ‘new HR’.
 Unlike many writers, our view is that there is indeed a clear and business-critical
 role for an ‘’aware and capable’’ HR profession, able to develop a clearly value-
 adding role which rides and addresses regular organisational cycle changes, and ever-
 changing trends.


For more information on any of the above please contact Sweta Patel, Campaign Manager – HDA, at:

     ++44(0) 207 820 9199 or alternatively Also see:

More on HDA:

HDA’s range of consultancy services support organisations in all sectors (ranging from
FTSE/Fortune 100 companies, to SME's, to public sector organisations), to manage the human
aspects of business capability and organisational / career change.

Our work ranges from closely partnering with client organisations to manage large scale
organisational change and restructuring processes, to facilitating behavioural change and
development within teams and individuals; both in established and early-stage organisations.

HDA provides consultancy solutions in: organisational change consultancy, group facilitation,
career management and outplacement, leadership development and executive coaching,
employer branding and talent development, performance and productivity management,
employee retention and motivation, stress management and employee counselling.


More on Clayton Glen:

Clayton Glen is Commercial Director with HDA (, a privately-owned human
capital consultancy, based in London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow,
Swindon and Bournemouth. He has accountability for all commercial activity across the
company's business streams.

Clayton has held senior HR and commercial roles in the UK, the USA, continental Europe and
in Southern Africa; in a range of industries, including chemicals/fmcg, automotive, e-
commerce consulting and mobile technology. He has an MBA from the University of Wales.
Prior to joining HDA, he was Head of HR & Finance with a venture capital funded mobile
technology start-up (, where he had accountability for building an
international team and infrastructure in London and the USA.

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