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Do you need a Chief Operating Officer for HR?

Deloitte Debates


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As organizations look to deliver more value through the HR function, some are establishing a HR Chief Operating Officer (COO) role. Good idea? Bad idea? The next new thing?

Despite the demonstrated benefits of HR Transformation (HRT), business executives and HR leaders continue to voice frustration with HR’s ability to deliver value. With no shortage of talented people doing great work, all signs point to the need to continue to rethink HR organizations themselves. One new idea is the emergence of an HR COO role designed to drive performance improvements across the entire HR organization. Should you make the leap?

Here's the debate.

Make the leap.
Global HR service delivery is growing exponentially more complicated. It makes good sense to separate program development from operational implementation, so all roles can focus on their strong suits.
What’s the rush?
Our plate is full with important business initiatives and this doesn’t really help with our top priorities. Besides, what’s the rush? As we learned with HR business partnering, it takes time for things to mature and deliver the promised value. Why is the HR COO any different?
Something has to change.
Business leaders aren’t getting the services they want, especially when initiatives span multiple business units and geographies — like with merger integration or an HR transformation. That’s where an HR COO can really add value.
Something – but not this.
Isn’t this the role of HR leadership already? Adding in a new senior HR executive to do this doesn’t make sense. Focus instead on better project management and execution. There’s no need to radically change responsibilities and reporting structures.
The current level of complexity is crippling.
The HR COO allows for specialization to manage the real complexity you’re already facing. Other executives can focus on what needs to get done – while the HR COO takes the reins on how it gets done.
Sounds like we’ll need to hire Superman.
You’re describing someone with experience in HR, finance, technology, operations and executive leadership – with a focus on HR service delivery and operations. No one person can measure up to all that.
This moves toward excellence.
Talented operations professionals can make a deep and immediate impact – creating processes that serve people instead of the other way around. They bring hard-nosed accountability and performance, which is exactly what business leaders are looking for.
This is a move toward chaos.
Just hire stronger HR execs. This role sounds like it’s being created to fill a capabilities gap in the existing leadership team. Our talent model for HR executives needs to change to include strong operating skills in everyone.

Our Take

Jason Geller
Robin I. Lissak

Jason Geller, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Robin I. Lissak, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Establishing the HR COO role may be the shortest path to sustainable value from your global HRT investments. Making the call requires bold leadership.

If there’s one thing HR professionals agree on today, it is that the business wants more — not less — from HR. But when business and HR leaders sit down to work together, they often find themselves focused less on what needs to be done and more on how. That’s a waste of time, because we already know what business leaders are looking for: better, faster and cheaper services that are more strategically aligned with business objectives.

The challenge of meeting these expectations has stymied even the best HR organizations. Especially when coordination is required across multiple business units and geographies. In those areas, integration is often handled on an ad hoc basis through an informal network of “go-to” HR people – with success hinging on relationships and special effort rather than reliable processes, lines of authority and structure. As a result, there’s often a gap between the expectations of business leaders and what HR is set up to deliver.

To improve performance, we propose a simple step in the evolution of HR organizations: a division of responsibility between HR executives charged with making broad, strategic choices and those focused more on operational execution. This requires creating a new, senior HR role — the HR Chief Operating Officer. It’s a key step in clearing the way for CHROs to focus on what needs to get done, with support from an HR COO who has responsibility for how it gets done.

Final thought. The HR Chief Operating Officer is not a role that someone can be phased into over time. Nor can it be piloted. It requires a depth of conviction from CHROs who know they are not yet delivering the services that the business needs.

Related Content

Library: Deloitte Debates
Services: Consulting
Overview: Human Capital, HR Transformation


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