Victor Agruso - human resources executive

Here’s How to Align Your HR Department: 6 Principles for a Better-Aligned Organization

Experts continue to disagree about the best way to organize the HR function within complex organizations. That’s largely because there’s no “one true way” to organize HR in any given business situation. Different contexts call for different means.

That said, the operating model options available to HR function owners are not endless. Three stand out: centralized, decentralized, and shared services. The centralized model applies the HR functional model across the entire enterprise; the decentralized model applies uniquely to each business line; and the shared services model bridges the divide, centralizing and decentralizing as warranted by business needs.

But choosing the appropriate operating model is only the first step in the long process of aligning and fitting the HR function to the needs of the enterprise it services. The outputs of that process, and whether it’s judged to be a success or failure, depends in turn on the successful adoption of governing principles for effective HR organization. Six, in particular, deserve our attention.

Arrive at a Common Purpose

The purpose of this common purpose, as it were, is to unite the operationally and often geographically disparate HR components behind a shared mission or set of objectives. A common purpose might be to improve business performance (as is the case in strategic HR functions), to enhance employee well-being, or to deliver better value for external stakeholders such as customers or investors.

Articulate and Respect Internal Differences

With the exception of “departments” comprised of a single HR generalist responsible for the entire function, there’s no such thing as a monolithic HR department. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for tensions and turf battles to arise between the different roles that contribute to the function, especially when those roles have little operational overlap. Departments that work to understand and respect the ways in which these roles intersect, and to take measures to ensure that they row together (toward the common purpose) rather than to their own benefit, tend to function better — and do better for the organization as a whole.

Prioritize Processes Over Point-in-Time Solutions

Solutions exist at discrete points in time; processes are forever. Well-aligned HR organizations, then, devote more energy to developing and refining solutions-oriented processes than working toward discrete solutions themselves. With the right processes in place for discussing, negotiating, and working through problems, seizing decision rights (and competing to take credit or deflect blame for the resultant outcome) becomes less important. 

Treat the Entire HR Organization as a Whole Rather Than Discrete, Competitive Units

Remember the common purpose. HR organizations that recognize their component parts’ shared destiny function better than those that operate as isolated (or actively competitive) units. Imagine, in short, an HR organization that speaks of itself as a “we/ours,” rather than an “I/my.”

Encourage Cross-Unit Collaboration and Exchange

This last point is vital to realizing common purpose and a true “we/ours” conception. It’s achieved by actively and intentionally encouraging HR professionals and generalists to work across roles and groups, both over the long term (by career rotation between COEs and embedded HR roles) and in the short term (through frequent standing meetings and collaboration initiatives). 

Is your HR department properly aligned? If not, how are you planning to change that?

The RBL Group’s online library was an invaluable resource for this article and readers are encouraged to explore for the latest insights on leadership development and strategic HR.