Bersin Envisions a More Distributed HR Function

IMPACT_2013_Final_LogoJosh Bersin, principal, CEO and founder at Bersin by Deloitte, delivered a content-rich, provoking opening keynote at Bersin’s Impact 2013 conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday morning. The message was, in essence, that businesses and their HR functions need to do business and HR completely differently than even just a few short years ago if they’re going to compete in the global marketplace.

His vision, if you will, involves a more distributed network of HR expertise, localized for every state, country and culture. No more preaching HR from above.

Some of the top drivers of change, he said, are clear gaps in leadership, skills and education — borne out by research, Bersin’s and others’; an explosive role of technology; and disparities in economic growth and opportunity, country to country.

“Successful global interconnectedness,” he said, “means understanding what true localization really is.” He offered some examples of companies that have learned the importance of understanding what doing business in a different culture really means. Ford, for instance, before it introduced its highly successful Ford Figo in  India, knew its people had to learn what the road conditions were, what colors would sell, etc.

For HR leaders, embracing the challenges of doing business globally will mean understanding and transforming the learning culture, optimizing local talent acquisition and localizing the leadership pipeline. “High-performing leaders in certain cultures have characteristics specific only to those cultures,” Bersin told attendees.

From a business standpoint, he told me privately after the keynote, HR leaders need to embrace a more distributed HR, veering away from the old Centers of Excellence model toward one involving Networks of Expertise. The future of HR, competing in a global business world, he said, needs to “be a model where local HR specialists are trained enough to tweak [programs and initiatives] at a local level and HR leaders are creating standards based on integrating skills and information” throughout the corporation, not innovating and then passing it on down the chain.

In fact, he even went so far as to say that the concept of the HR business partner needs to be rethought and redefined. “Business partners need to be held more accountable,” he said. “They need to be more powerful and [need to be] experts locally,” much the same way houses aren’t built by generalists, but by specialists — each contributing the best of what he or she can do.

To help HR-leadership expertise along, his company introduced at the conference its Bersin by Deloitte Playbooks, step-by-step programs to help business leaders and their teams tackle current HR, talent and learning challenges — locally throughout the world — based on Bersin’s WhatWorks research.