HR transformations are one of the most commonly requested function redesign projects at Kates Kesler. Here we share a few design and change insights from our work with sophisticated HR leadership teams at dozens of companies, including Cargill, PepsiCo, Shell, Qualcomm and VF Corporation.

Maintain a Cadre of HR Specialists with Flex Capacity

The movement away from HR generalists to HR specialists is not new. What is new is pooling HR specialists so they can be deployed across business lines. Shell, for example, reduced its HR generalists by 80 percent and created expertise pools (e.g., for project management and change), many of which are flexible resources. Hans Roovers, Manager of HR Optimization, shares that, “the benefit of this type of resource allocation is that it forces value-based work prioritization and reduces the amount of duplicate work in the system.” Capability is deployed against the most important work.

Keep the Customer Experience Front and Center

How your customers, particularly middle managers, will experience HR after the transformation should be a critical consideration before it begins. Business leaders want a personal connection with HR and the business partner role is a proven way to deliver this. Employees want easy access and Workday-type platforms provide a consumer-like experience. It is often the mid-level manager, however, who feels a loss when HR is transformed. Jennifer Mayer, former Director of Compensation at PepsiCo, recalls that, “Senior business leaders were confident that the HRBP role wasn’t changing so it would be ‘business as usual’ for them. In retrospect, though, we could have done a better job though communicating the new HR model to mid-level managers and how they would access HR going forward.”

Make Sure HR Career Paths Remain Clear

HR transformations often change where and how work gets done. HR roles may be enriched as transactional work is removed from the plate. But, career paths may no longer be so clear. Mauricio Machado, VP HR, Talent and Performance at Cargill, notes that, “There were so many changes occurring that we didn’t have time to focus on what it meant from a career perspective for our own people. Now three years in we can better see and communicate the new career opportunities for HR staff and we’re catching up on that.” Further optimize your employees’ career pathing by ensuring that job descriptions and competencies are up to date, performance development plans are in place, appropriate training or mentoring is available, and your internal job application process is robust. Your customer experience will only be as good as your HR associate experience.

Engage Leaders throughout the Transformation

Engaging leaders is important at the beginning of the work to gain commitment to the change. Just as important is to have them involved throughout the process, so they become advocates when the going gets tough. Dan Dombey, VP Organizational Effectiveness and Performance at VF Corp, reflects, “Involving leaders in the upfront assessment of the work helped us articulate a clear case for change. But, we also involved a broad range of business VPs in the design sessions. Their visibility throughout the process strengthened the credibility of our work.” Strategically involving business leaders (e.g., co-creating new behaviors required in the future), rather than simply communicating upcoming changes, is a much better way of securing support and ensuring a successful transformation.

Test the Design with Scenarios

Once your new HR structure is defined, pressure test it with various business scenarios to ensure that well-defined processes and clear roles exist. Hans Roovers from Shell, notes that, “Our specialized expertise pools were challenging because they required coordination across multiple roles and this was new for us; we needed to run through various scenarios to help ‘glue the organization together.’” Increasingly, effective coordination of end-to-end processes will be required in new HR structures. Have your design teams run through scenarios to identify and resolve design issues before the new structure “goes live” to avoid costly and time-consuming lessons down the road.

Your Communication Approach Matters

Finding the right way to communicate depends upon the culture of the organization. But, we haven’t seen an organization yet where direct, leader-led communication didn’t have the most impact of any channel. Cargill used a high-touch approach, having HRLT members go out to meet face-to-face with plant GMs and host numerous small group sessions with business leaders and HR employees. They also distributed visual HR “change maps” and surveyed employees every six months to gauge adoption, concerns, and perceptions of leadership credibility.

Elizabeth Baran and Amy Kates