Australia's Best HR Teams

by Iain Hopkins10 Sep 2013

What makes for a phenomenal HR team in 2013? Human Capital asks four of last year’s shortlisted ‘best HR team’ leaders from the Australian HR Awards

One thing guaranteed to get most senior HR practitioners fired up is talk about the merits or otherwise of HR team structures. Is there an ‘ideal’ structure for HR teams to adopt? Is the popular but increasingly criticised Ulrich business partner approach still servicing business needs? What should be outsourced?
Ultimately the structure will depend on a number of factors, including size, scope, and maturity of the organisation. It will also be influenced by the current business and talent landscape within which an organisation operates. 
Mark Busine, general manager NSW, DDI, says the structure should be aligned to the organisation’s HR strategy (which should be aligned to the organisation’s business priorities). The structure at any point in time, however, may be influenced by the organisation’s current HR capability. While it may be desirable to dramatically reshape the structure in line with the strategy, this may require time. Force-fitting a structure into an existing capability set may be difficult. Furthermore, the organisation may not yet be ready for such a change.
“This is why models such as the Ulrich model recommend getting the foundation right before launching into more sophisticated HR models and approaches,” Busine says.
As for outsourcing, again this will depend on the size, scope and maturity of the organisation.
“Ultimately, the HR function must find the most appropriate way to effectively and efficiently deliver core HR services such as payroll, HRIS, and compliance,” Busine says. “This can be achieved internally or externally through outsourced services. Typically, more strategic functions such as staffing and talent management, organisational design and cultural change programs will be managed internally. The effective implementation of these activities can create significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
The focus of HR now lies in trying to align individual goals and objectives with corporate goals and objectives. In terms of skill sets, Busine says one of the most important skills required by HR functions moving forward is internal consulting or, more specifically, performance consulting. Performance consulting is a process in which a consultant (often internal consultants), partner with their business stakeholders to accomplish the objective of optimising workplace performance in line with an organisation’s strategic and cultural priorities. 
“The ability to work in partnership with key internal stakeholders to address business needs and objectives is now fundamental to the success of an HR team, irrespective of structure. It is fundamental to building credibility and gaining buy-in,” Busine adds.
As each of the HR directors profiled in this feature testify, the key to their team’s success lies in how well they are integrated into the business and understand what’s required by the business. What is the best way to develop this expertise?
“While we tend to focus a lot on developing the business acumen of HR, the answer lies in aligning HR systems and practices with the key priorities of the organisation,” Busine says. “Like any professional discipline, business acumen and credibility will come from adding value to the organisation.” 
Too often, Busine adds, when asked the question ‘What is your HR or talent strategy?’, HR functions describe their current or planned HR practices in areas such as recruitment, L&D or performance management. “While strong and robust HR practices are essential, too often these are considered in isolation rather than aligned with an organisation’s strategic and cultural priorities,” he concludes. 
Over the following pages, read how four of Australia’s best HR leaders have directed their teams towards understanding and executing on their organisations’ strategic and cultural priorities.

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