Only one in three organisations boast Ulrich model


Really interesting research. I would question though the claim that the Ulrich model is an attribute of high-performing HR functions, with 71% of the highest-performing HR functions surveyed boasting ...

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Centres of expertise, HRBPs, and HR shared services all feature at top-performing firms

Only one in three organisations deploys the key components of a high-performing HR service delivery model, according to a study from Mercer.

The HR Transformation Study – How HR Needs to Change surveyed 300 companies from across 26 industries. It found that just a third (35%) of organisations worldwide employ an HR service delivery model, widely known as the Ulrich model, that includes the three components of centres of expertise (CoEs), HR business partners (HRBPs), and HR shared services (HRSS).

The research claimed that this model is an attribute of high-performing HR functions, with 71% of the highest-performing HR functions surveyed boasting all three elements.

When it came to structure, 50% of HR in the firms were centralised while 15% were decentralised. The remaining 35% were a hybrid, with some decisions and policies deployed commonly across the organisation and some locally.

Only 17% of the companies polled said that they plan to change their existing HR model. However, 68% of the high-performing HR functions identified had redesigned their HR structure within the last five years.

Margaret Ruiséal, partner in Mercer UK’s HR transformation business, said getting the HR service delivery model right is crucial in light of the important role HR plays in supporting the future success of a business.

“Organisations are making changes to boost innovation and increase agility, which requires a significant culture change,” she said. “HR needs to be well-positioned to support these changes and ensure its priorities and practices are aligned to business needs."

She added that HR also needs to adapt its skillset and structure for the digital age. “There is significant opportunity for the HR function to grow its digital presence,” she said.

“HR functions need to enhance their technology and data analytics skills to strengthen their strategic decision-making and enhance their partnerships with business leaders and other functions. Creating a more digital and consumer-oriented manager and employee experience is fundamental to this shift and requires significant change management to ensure success.”


Really interesting research. I would question though the claim that the Ulrich model is an attribute of high-performing HR functions, with 71% of the highest-performing HR functions surveyed boasting all three elements. What though is the definition of a high performing HR team - how is this being measured ? This I am sure will differ from one organisation to another. Also from my experience the HR "service" has to be relevant to the needs and culture of the organisation and which might not be this model. This is especially true for SME's. I would also say that it is not the "model" that makes HR effective but the skills and attributes of the HR people regardless of the model they are working in. I also find that using the expression HR Business Partners and words like "supporting" the business positions HR in a secondary role where I think we play a much more fundamental role. We are not "Partners" we are very much apart of the business. I would be good to hear other views on this.


It seems strange that a business model defined 20 years ago is still being actively promoted today. Especially when so many other HR practices have fallen by the wayside. When I saw Ulrich a couple of years ago he was encouraging a wider business role for HR incorporating other stakeholders (mostly on the back of global banking, oil, and supply chain scandals) which, it could legitimately be argued, were caused, or permitted to grow in a world where HRBPs were somewhere between blissfully unaware and complicit. The Ulrich model lends itself to robotics and algorithms - HRSS and CoEs are specifically process and IT driven, whilst the role of an HRBP is essentially formulaic. It is only by understanding people and their role in organisations, HR as a job has a future - unfortunately, like safety, recruitment, and training, HR professionals have transferred that role to others. It really is time to rethink the role (and to engage staff, managers and other stakeholders in the process).


Indeed very interesting results... I agree with Richard on the question of HR position "supporting" the business. I truly believe HR can and should be enabling the business and playing a much more active role shaping the business strategy. I also would like to encourage other HR Professionals to challenge the status quo on the role HR is playing (or not playing) in the digital age. We can and should be driving the employee experience focused on how employees are consuming services today in a much more self-services, personalized way. I am confident that we can drive the business forward by being willing to drive change within HR.


What I find interesting is the way in which Ulrich seems to have morphed into 'best practice' in HR when it originally espoused to deliver 'best fit' solutions! As a HR lead in a medium sized charity, full Ulrich would only ever be possible with outsourced HR admin /paralegal support providing CoE and Shared Services. This is definitely not culturally appropriate for the needs of our organisation. My small team of generalists (each of whom lead on one or two specific areas) cover aspects of both transactional and business partnering work. We are in danger of fragmenting HR skills and limiting talent progression within the sector by expecting Ulrich to be the norm.

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