“Perhaps we should outsource the HR function.” Heresy or just a fact of corporate life?

Would business leaders fight for your HR function?

It’s the Board meeting at your organisation, and a Director says; ‘the company next door has cut the budget for HR by 30% by outsourcing the entire department – we could do that.’  What would happen next?  A riot of objection, or a thoughtful pause while it’s considered? 

How do companies decide what their own HR function is worth? 

If business leaders aren’t shocked at the thought of losing their HR partner, ie. the person who they feel supports them, your case is lost.  If HR hasn’t already established a great reputation, it’s too late now.  This scene demonstrates the importance of political savvy – being continuously well positioned, so that you can ride out crucial moments like these.  Whether the Head of HR is in the room or not (and that’s a subject for another time), you’d like this idea to be rejected, fast.  You’d like them to feel attached to you.

If your organisation starts to talk about outsourcing HR, it could be your political strategy that’s falling short, not your professional competence or even your effectiveness.  It’s one thing adding real value; it’s another getting the credit for it.  In order to do this, recognition has to be built into every conversation, whether in the board room or on the factory floor. 

How do you feel about consciously building your reputation?  HR people tend to have an uncomfortable relationship with organisational politics.  It often seems best to avoid or ignore it, rather than get into an unseemly squabble or, worse, be seen as ‘political’.  If that’s the case, then in fact you have selected your political strategy – passive.  

It isn’t enough to be good; HR has to be seen to be good.

Let’s get back to the question – why not outsource your HR function?  The answer needs to come to your mind – and out of your mouth – pretty quickly.   One answer came during my recent interview with a Head of HR*, who knew her HRBPs were hitting the spot when a business leader said;  ‘My HRBP meetings are the highlights of my week’.  Digging deeper into this, she learned that the HRBP was enabling them to think long-term, and to hold true to their people strategy; to ‘push back against the short-term dynamic.’  The value of this to a leader, and to the business, is immeasurable.

Yes, there are decisions to be made about the best model to deliver HR, especially when it’s predicted that 60% of HR activities will be automated.  Maybe those are ripe for outsourcing.  However, leaders will always stand by HR people who add wisdom and insight, and ask great questions that help them to think, and to succeed.   

However, if you can’t rely on leaders in your business to stand up for you and the value you add, you’d better brush up on your TUPE.

*Read the complete interview with Sarah Neale, Head of HR for Gazprom Marketing & Trading

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