Today, a typical corporate HR leadership team is led by a CHRO, and includes HR VPs for business units, HR VPs for Centers of Expertise, a VP for HR Operations, and so on. Within this familiar structure, leadership team roles and responsibilities are predictable. For example, HR VPs for business units are naturally focused on business unit HR issues. Centre-of-Expertise leaders concentrate on HR policies and programs. In terms of operating model, HR leadership team members typically have their own budgets and resources and are responsible for developing an annual operating plan to support their priorities and projects.
Most HR leaders can point to an innovative service they developed to solve a critical business challenge. Their stories have a familiar theme: the work required a lot of cooperation, goodwill, and effort by HR people who stepped up to the challenge to get something important done. The examples are hard to replicate because they required huge commitments of time and energy. Consequently, there is rarely a structure in place to sustain the cycle of continuous performance improvement. This scenario might illustrate a fundamental dilemma. On one hand, HR leaders understand that the business understands the value of people and is willing to invest in people more than ever before. But most HR professionals are not prepared to take advantage of this opportunity with their current structures, roles, and processes.
To capture the challenge and help HR organisations deliver better results, there should be a division of responsibility between HR executives who focus primarily on what needs to get done and those who focus on how it gets done. The step might require creating a new role within the HR structure, such as HR Chief Operating Officer (HR COO).
Deloitte Human Capital Trends described HR COO as a leader who focuses on how HR services, such as delivery, design, development, and implementation. The role of HR COO is created to drive efficiency, effectiveness, cost, and compliance for all HR services. The presence of HR Chief Operating Officer is also expected to drive better results to overall business operations, especially its human management.
Same as other roles in an organisation, HR COO is defined under clear lines of responsibilities and reporting relationships. Deloitte defined the following as HR COO’s job responsibilities:
HR COO role is required to have a clear and communicated mandate to drive HR service delivery, with responsibility for HR efficiency, effectiveness, and compliance. As such, it requires full support of the Executive Committee and the HR leadership team. The HR COO will need to develop working relationships with members of their senior leadership team. One way to garner that support is to establish shared HR leadership team goals that are part of each member’s performance objectives.
Business leaders today want better, faster, and more compliant HR services at a lower cost and an HR organisation that can turn on a dime to support their ever-changing business strategies and goals. With the presence of the HR Chief Operating Officer, business leaders can achieve these goals. When the responsibilities are shared, better outcomes will be delivered.
To put it simpler, the HR Chief Operating Officer is not a role that someone can be phased into over time, nor can it be piloted. It requires a depth of conviction from CHROs who know they are not yet delivering the services that the business needs. In the months and years ahead, more and more CHROs might embrace the HR COO model as they strive to crack the code for operational excellence in HR service delivery. Recognising that even the best people cannot excel in a sub-optimal operating model, they will make the call that only leaders can make – to change the operating model of the HR organisation to harness the power of ‘how’.