Opinion: Organisations are looking for more flexible and independent forms of HR

Author: Joanna Harrop | Date: 30 March 2016

David Ulrich’s three-legged model is a popular choice but there are limitations, says Joanna Harrop

Joanna HarropOne example of a non-traditional model is David Ulrich’s ‘three-legged stool’, which proposes that both administrative and strategic ‘transitional’ functions are delivered in three ways: HR business partners (HRBPs), a centre of excellence and shared service centres. The latter is the most popular local choice, because it allows management to make independent decisions in relation to the workforce.

However, local HR practitioners have pointed to several areas that must be considered if the shared services model is to have practical relevance to the current and future needs of organisations in the UAE.


Three themes have emerged:

  1. Limited strategic capability of HRBPs.
  2. Incorrect use of metrics and measurements within the organisation.
  3. Lack of participation by line management.

There are many factors affecting how and when the limitations occur, including a slight reduction in the transactional HR workload within the HRBP role, the limited strategic experience and abilities of HRBPs, and inappropriate recruitment practices. When it comes to the incorrect use of metrics and measurements, being unable to obtain the correct information and a limited ability to apply the correct metrics and measurements are key drivers. Meanwhile, the main reason for the lack of line management participation is that HRBPs struggle to establish their credibility in the overall strategic organisational understanding.

When filling HRBP roles, companies need to consider candidates with both HR and business qualifications, as well as general experience. They should also improve their measuring and monitoring systems to ensure that decisions are made based on fact, and introduce cloud-based technology, which can integrate talent and development programmes.

The model is recommended for large organisations, but the value of HR lies in more than just reducing its own administrative costs. True commercial value comes from raising capability levels in HR and developing services that deliver the skills the business needs to meet new growth opportunities and expand in new markets, with the key being talent management and development.

UK organisations that have been using the model for some time recognise that businesses that change their focus from ‘administrative excellence’ to talent management stand the best chance of significantly boosting their bottom line.

Joanna Harrop is an HR practitioner with experience gained in multinational FTSE 100 organisations in the UK and the Middle East