HR shared services is a term that we’ve used for years in the HR function.
It became common parlance when leading HR management thinker Dave Ulrich
started to take our money at conferences by persuading us that a ‘3 box model’
of strategic business partners, expert services and shared services is the only
Most organisations have begun the move towards this model of HR as business
partners, some have developed global experts in areas such as compensation or
employment law, and others have either outsourced or tried to create their own
Without doubt, any efficient and effective HR shared services operation has
to understand what it offers customers, has to design its processes to be
efficient and continually improve them, has to match its organisation structure
to these processes, and has to utilise an appropriate level of automation.
This inevitably forces HR to centralise transactional and administrative
activities and co-locate employees. However, transferring employees and
activities into one building does not mean you are creating a call centre. We
all have an idea of what a call centre looks like: warehouse accommodation and
cubicles to hide the constant chatter or the hum of white-noise used to muffle
the sound of the operators.
But is this really what centralised HR looks like? Not at all. I’ve recently
been involved in co-locating 250 HR employees to a new purpose-built shared
facility in Preston, Lancashire, as part of an outsourcing deal of 500
employees. And it’s a service centre not a call centre.
When we first told employees of the plans, there were concerns. The thought
of moving and above all to be forced to move into what they perceived as a
‘call centre’ was a step too far. And yet six months later employee
satisfaction is at an all time high.
This is because it soon became obvious that – having organised a number of
early viewings of the facility for employees – the purpose-built centre would
offer light, bright and high-tech accommodation. It was better than the normal
second-rate offices and portakabins that many of our HR employees had been used
In addition, and probably more importantly for me, only one team of less
than 20 employees work in the customer support team, staffing the phones. They
handle a customer base of more than 50,000 employees and aim to handle 80 per
cent of enquiries. The remaining employees are in project and process teams, IT
and portal development, finance, HR procurement, pensions, administration, and
This is not a call centre, and I suggest that such preconceptions should be
reserved for telephone banking or Holiday booking operations – not for the HR
By Alan Bailey, Head of communications and change management, Xchanging