We must develop our HR back-office skills

The NHS is a great example of the real role HR has to play in new-look
public services. The news profile on NHS HR director, Andrew Foster (10
August), stated that it has a workforce of 1.3 million people, growing at a
rate of 60,000 per year. Assuming 8 per cent attrition, the NHS has to recruit
164,000 new employees per year. If we assume conservatively, the NHS receives eight
applicants per vacancy, it has to process 1.3 million applications per year or
6,300 each working day.

The skills required to undertake such a high volume, transactional activity
are not strategic or generalist. Back-office skills must be about customer
service (more a mindset than skill), process, technology, statistical analysis,
compliance, consistency, accuracy and repeatability. The back office must be
able to measure and understand demand to deploy adequate resources to service
that demand. Have today’s HR professionals got those skills?

I’m still not sure whether the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development’s teachings and qualifications really tackle much of the skills or
the culture required to turn HR into a function with a reputation for service
excellence and efficiency. But I am sure that we cannot keep churning out HR
generalists with a little knowledge about a lot of things.

The real test will lie in major public sector ref- orms,
following Peter Gershon’s Review of Public Sector
Efficiency. It states that savings of more than £20bn in six main areas across
the public sector in 2007-2008 have been identified. They include a planned
headcount reduction, increased efficiency and making the best use of the
resources available for the provision of services. One area under intense
scrutiny will be the back office, which includes HR.

Gershon states that back-office services provide
essential support to the delivery of frontline services. But realistically,
what does this mean, and how can it be achieved? The proposal is to effectively
create Ulrich’s three-box model – which defines how HR should be structured –
with a corporate core that sets policy, an expert group to deliver the
added-value professional service, and a third group comprising transactional
support services. It is not a new model for HR in the private sector.

To kick-start reformation in the public sector, and following the Gershon review, departmental programmes are in place to
focus on simplifying and standardising processes as a potential pre-requisite
to sharing or outsourcing services. Change programmes will also have to
concentrate on another important point raised by Gershon
– ensuring the required skills are in place to achieve reformation at a local
level will be paramount.

Creating shared services and separating transactional activities from
strategy to allow professionals to become HR business partners is a step in the
right direction. But it will ultimately fail without developing the right skill
sets and cultural mindset in the HR back office, where 80 per cent of resources

By Alan Bailey, head of business
process outsourcing, Xchanging

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