In his book ‘Human Resource Champions, published in 1996, David Ulrich proposed a differentiation of HR activity dependent on the extent to which each role was process or people oriented and strategically or operationally focused .
Ulrich’s work led many organisations to move away from a historical model that was populated by generalists and to adopt a new model for HR services. The new approach, often dubbed the ‘three legged model’ proposed a differentiation of HR services with three distinct specialised roles; shared service centres to manage operations; business partner roles to deliver strategic HR services to the business and centres of expertise to provide technical skills and capabilities.
Although Ulrich never claimed to have invented the three legged model, his name has become synonymous with HR services organised in this way. Now, almost 18 years later it has become the standard method for many large, complex HR organisations to organise HR service delivery.
We wanted to know what impact this model has had on HR. Specifically we asked questions on how organisations had responded to the opportunities and challenges offered by the model; how had they gone about it and whether the model delivered on the promised benefits.We also wanted to know what role technology had played in the HR transformation process, what was left to be done and, with the benefit of hindsight, what would they have done differently.
To carry out the study we talked with over 40 organisations and their HR functions. The majority were in complex global organisations with over 10,000 employees – the heartland of transformational change in HR over the last 10 years. The results were, in parts, challenging and counter-intuitive and provided some clear indicators as to where organisations should place future priorities for a modern HR function.