Tuesday, 22 May 2012

#SAPForum Doing Ulrich – or a return to the flexible resource pool?


   Today I was at SAP Forum in London.   There were a couple of interesting technology oriented sessions (which to me, more than anything, showed the similarity of issues faced by IT and HR departments) and a few good HR ones (with a couple of less good ones too).

The best of these I thought was one on Ulrich – and beyond, presented by Accenture and providing some early insights into some research they’re doing currently (there’ll be a book).

Let me come clean on my perspectives before I start my review- I think Ulrich’s work largely makes a lot of sense (though I don’t agree with outside-in) and am looking forward to seeing him in Dubai and at HR Performance.  But I also think ‘doing Ulrich’ is an awful idea and that organisations that do this have only themselves to blame when things don’t work out.  More on my perspectives at the end of the report…


So, Accenture do see an issue in the model (or in execution of the model).  Those clients looking to stay with Ulrich are seeking to refine and optimise it as follows:

  • Joining up, connecting and providing more governance across the model
  • Assessing and developing business partners – often the weakest link
  • Bringing in a COO as an overlay on top of the model to make HR more commercial
  • Tailoring the model as one size does not fit all, eg using concierge services for investment bankers who aren’t going to do employee self-service are they? (just getting them behaving like decent human beings would seem to be enough of a challenge for most)
  • Unfudging global / regional / local activity splits
  • Moving more work into shared services and offshore to increase efficiency
  • Making hybrid the new market, eg a company might outsource to support growth in emerging markets but keep activities in-house elsewhere, or develop other, lower services to support the rising contingent workforce.


But how can it be that everybody is implementing the model badly?  Perhaps the model itself needs to change.  Accenture suspect the next new model will involve:

  • Focusing more strongly on operational excellence to deliver lower quartile costs
  • Keeping numbers of business partners to a very small number
  • Putting everybody else into a flexible, agile resource pool
  • Making all this work through ‘ruthless measurement and analytics’.


The last point seemed to get a lot of stress (this is Accenture!).  So for example:

“If HR can’t measure what it does and prove the value of what it does then it shouldn’t be doing it.”


This to me is absolute garbage – worse than that in fact as it’s not just useless, it’s also hugely dangerous as it’s just going to drive HR’s focus to more measurable activities which are generally less valuable.


I was pleased to see, however, that Accenture is stressing the need for HR to help their organisations rather than just support general austerity in their organisations by cutting their own numbers (which XpertHR suggests is what’s happening currently), so:

“HR can have a lot more impact by improving sales performance even 0.002% than it can through functional operational improvement.”


The biggest point for me though is that actually the whole debate is a red herring.  Ulrich never proposed ‘his’ model as a solution organisations should implement.  And it should never be one.  All organisational transformation, including HR’s, should begin with clear organisational principles, the identification of potential options and the comparison of the pros and cons of these options against the organisational principles.  The best solution may end up looking like Urich’s straw model or it may not.

So to me, it’s Accenture’s finding that “blanket ratios and sizing of the function were applied” that is pretty much the root cause of the problem – not the model nor the execution actually.



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