Featured Profile

Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Wednesday 25 Jul 2012
HR process re-engineering - why this difficult job adds massive value

HR process re-engineering - why this difficult job adds massive value

What is your immediate reaction when you hear the words "process re-engineering"? Perhaps you remember the articles from the 1990s and the simple eloquence of process streamlining. Later came stories of draconian reductions in workforce, poorly conceived automation, inability to deliver expected savings, and badly defined outsourcing.

Somehow, among all the changes, customer service became a lower priority than taking cost out of the company. Sadly, the HR role in this was often relegated to "right sizing" the workforce, then getting "right sized" itself.

However, as with many other "management fads" once you get past the hype there is real value in using process re-engineering techniques in the right context. Based on my HR experiences, both good and bad, over the last sixteen years I have come to the conclusion that there are five relatively straightforward steps to success.

Clearly define and agree the goal with key stakeholders

Engage the whole HR team and "customers"

Develop a shared vision

Introduce process mapping

Encompass people, process and technology

Let me explain in more detail.

1. Define the goal

Ensure you understand who has a "stake" in the outcomes. Who can enable, influence, impede, or block the work? What will you do to engage them? Help them understand how they will benefit from the exercise and, if necessary, refine your goal to obtain their buy-in.

2. Engage the HR team and "customers"

Not everything is well-defined. People performing HR work have a substantial amount of tacit knowledge, understand the history and know the shortcuts that make things work. With the right facilitation around 70-80 per cent of the good ideas will come from within. The remaining 20-30 per cent comes from introducing external thinking as a catalyst.

3. Develop a shared vision

You are now in a position to "fast forward" the HR team to visualise the stabilised future process. Encourage them to visualise what it will look and feel like through rich pictures and discussion. As Covey wisely said "begin with the end in mind".

4. Introduce process mapping

"Swim lane" mapping is easy to grasp and benefits from group participation. Avoid only involving managers - they may not have sufficient detailed hands-on knowledge. Use mapping to capture roles, activities, decision-points and hand-offs. Always evaluate proposed changes in terms of customer impact, triggers and outcomes. Be sure not to limit this to an intellectual mapping exercise - there is real value in simulating how things will work using role-play, rich pictures and process stapling.

5. Encompass process, technology and organisation

Re-engineering focused purely on technology but ignoring people will fail. We have begun to recognise that social interaction is a vital part of operational excellence. Effective re-engineering occurs when your shared solution addresses and integrates all three elements of people, process and technology.


This approach works effectively across HR and applies to business partnering, centres of expertise and shared services. By consistently applying these steps you will dramatically reduce the risk of wasted time, money and effort on misaligned HR services. Also, the journey will be far more enjoyable.

Shaun Dunphy

Principal Enterprise Solutions Consultant

Ceridian UK