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Making the Ulrich model work

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The Ulrich model works and works very well. What has gone missing is the willingness to examine the structure every once in a while and make course corrections to adapt it to the growing needs of the business.


Much of the HR Shared Services model today owe their existence and evolution to the great work of Dave Ulrich almost a decade back. With the Business Partner HR model with a backend support layer, HR was now given the mandate to strategically partner with Business. All the best practices could now be handled by specialized skills in the Center of Expertise. This model has been a great success though the flaws in consistent implementation as also the changing business landscape have made practitioners question its utility.

Businesses have evolved in the last 10 odd years. They have grown in scale. They have gone global. The dynamics of talent has changed. Technology has evolved. And the challenges of the day-to-day management of the dynamic environment calls for a certain agility that could not wait. Slowly, many sub structures evolved in the classical model to accommodate for the larger, regional or immediate requirements. Some of the functions required immediate intervention. The idea of a centralized faceless back office was often replaced with a quick fix, a guerilla organization, and an affordable technology. Today what we see in many companies are variations of the original model.

In our practice as a HR Service provider and a trusted partner, we are often called upon by our clients to examine why these aberrations have emerged and often the clients tell us its because of the failure of the Ulrich model. In our view its not the failure of the model. The model works and works very well. What has gone missing is the willingness to examine the structure every once in a while and make course corrections to adapt it to the growing needs of the business. The  balance between shared services, business partner/regional HR, centers of expertise and corporate HR needs to be tightly maintained to ensure efficacy of HR shared services as also maximum value.

Ulrich model implementation cannot and should not be viewed as a one time implementation. It should be viewed as an annual exercise that calibrates the model with the evolution & changes in the business, the additional complexity and the changing demands of the clients/employees. Only then will the rigor be maintained and will the business gain maximum leverage & value from HR.

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