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Recently I was asked by UNICEF to address their HR Network in Emergencies on the Business Partner Model.  Naturally the work one should talk about in this is the work of Dave Ulrich and his team. Dave has done a marvellous job in the last two decades in championing HR cause and gives it the dignity it deserves. He lifted up the status of HR Function to very high levels by stating in his Business Partner model HR as a strategic partner, HR as an employee champion, change manager, leader and administrative efficiency holder and so on.
In one of his recent writings Dave has suggested that, “.the aim of the business partner model is to help HR professionals integrate more thoroughly into business processes and to align their day-today work with business outcomes”.  Dave further observed that “Business success today depends more than ever on softer agendas such as talent and organisation capabilities. HR professionals are centrally involved in providing the right people with the right skills in the right job at the right time. The 'war' for talent rages and will likely continue in an increasingly global knowledge economy. HR professionals also partner with line managers to identify and create capabilities such as speed to market, innovation, leadership, collaboration, fast change and culture management. These less tangible business activities increasingly have an impact on shareholder value and are top of mind among CEOs and general managers” (http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1014777/the-business-partner-model-lessons-learned).

Dave further goes on to say that...” Effective HR professionals not only work with business leaders to draft strategies, they also focus and collaborate on how to make strategies happen. Talent and organisational issues become the mechanisms to best deliver a strategy. Business leaders are increasingly attuned to the importance of talent and organisation as a way to turn aspirations into actions and strategic intent into business results as they co-ordinate closely with their HR professionals”.

Dave shares a concern that some HR professionals cannot perform the work of a business partner and cannot link their day-to-day work to business results. He presents evidence from research that some successful HR professionals have moved fast into these roles and have demonstrated their success by enhancing their business knowledge and performing strategic roles. He further observes that...” it is undoubtedly the case that some HR professionals may never become business partners. They are mired in the past administrative HR roles where conceptually or practically they cannot connect their work to business results”.

“Being a business partner requires HR professionals to have new knowledge and skills. Traditionally, HR professionals have tended to focus on negotiating and managing terms and conditions of work and administrative transactions. The required HR skills focused on admin issues such as policy setting and administration, union negotiation and managing employee transactions. Today, the business partner model requires HR professionals also to connect their work directly to the business. Some HR practitioners lack these skills. If they fail to acquire them, their ability to function as business partners is diminished. This strongly supports the business partner model.”

Whatever Dave states seem to be very true with India. If any the percentage of HR business Partners in my view is far below the 20 he assumes as a part of 20-60-20 principle. I assume in India the principle perhaps is 10-20-70. For any 100 HR Professionals you will find 90% doing very traditional HR roles and ensuing administrative efficiency and totally unable to rise to the Business partner level.  It will be interesting to pick up the BT 500 companies and see the number of them who have HR Leaders that are business partners. In fact we may find less than 10%.  NHRDN or some of the Institutions that teach HR may undertake this research. Unfortunately this may not happen as it has not happened for 40 years since the time the first HR Department was introduced and the role of HR function formulated.

When Udai Pareek formulated the principles in designing HR Function he clearly outlines in the year 1977 most of the roles talked about by Dave in the last decade and a half. For example in 1977 itself in the L&T consulting report (available from AHRD, Ahmedabad) the following roles of HR function were envisaged:
1.      The main function of HR is to help the company increase its “enabling capabilities”  
2.      Integrate development of people with organization development (similar to strategic partner)
3.      Balance adaptation to change and changing organizational culture (akin to change manager of Dave)
4.      Ensuring responsibility for the function (Udai talked about the credibility of the function)
5.      Balancing differentiation and integration, specialisation and diffusion etc.
6.      Maximise individual autonomy through increased responsibility
7.      Promote participative decision making
8.      And many more...

Almost 40 years ago when the first dedicated HRD department was conceptualised and separated from the personnel function, the assumption was that in India combining administrative role with development roles does not work. Hence those who are to perform development roles should be given a separate mandate to do so. Otherwise administrative roles interfere with developmental roles and what suffers is development. In India Development waits and gives way to administrative efficiencies. The current scenario in the country where there is a decision paralysis is a good indicator. HR has suffered in most companies as they have not followed the wisdom given several years ago by academics like Udai Pareek. In fact in many organizations Udai Pareek recommended that Performance appraisal ratings be delinked from rewards to give a development role to appraisals. L&T itself found it difficult to follow as people in HR changed and administrative convenience took over development for several years. Many organizations went in the reverse direction and even started applying forced distribution to ratings- a totally opposite of the spirit of HRD. Udai’s principles and thought were far ahead of many others. Udai was not an aggressive person. He never promoted his thought and research aggressively. Unfortunately India also is not an aggressive country in promoting its thought and philosophy. We leave it for others to learn and take it at their pace.

In spite of having such wonderful conceptualisation why has it not worked? The reasons are not difficult to find. It is only after getting disappointed with the slow movement of HRD we started the Centre for HRD at XLRI. When we found that a centre in an academic Institute can only do some things and HRD needs to be spread at faster speed we founded the National HRD Network. When the Network is only doing conferences and not being able to generate enough research and disseminate the same the Academy got started.

An examination of all these bodies (CHRD, NHRDN, and AHRD) and their success and failure are symbolic of the success or failure of HRD and the HR Function and the HR Professionals as Business Partners. I would have no opinion but to say that In spite of Dave Ulrich, Udai Pareek and many other stalwarts in HR in this part of the world we perhaps have less that 10% Business partners and a significantly high percentage of administrative efficiency handlers and routine HR managers.

The way forward is National-wide soul searching by all HR professionals and Professional bodies why we failed to move as fast as we should shave when the research based wisdom being given from the University of Michigan has been available at the IIMA from mid seven ties and at XLRI and NHRDN from mid-eighties and AHRD from early nineties?  

I hope the forthcoming NHRDN conference gives some time and space for introspection and painting a way ahead. Such introspection needs to be designed thoughtfully and we should not depend on a few leaders to lead but a genuine introspection promoted by good research. It should not end up with a few speeches by those whom we have repeatedly heard or not heard but through a well planned effort and thought provoking papers. Such papers should be written not by consultants who have vested interests but by academics with unbiased background and practitioners who are more committed to the profession than to themselves

 


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