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RBL’s HR Effectiveness Audit: How effective is your HR Department?

Dave Ulrich and Joe Grochowski /

For the last 30 years, the RBL Group has been on the forefront of HR transformation. We believe that HR is not about HR, but HR begins and ends with business. We find that many who focus on HR transformation are focused almost exclusively on how to organize the HR department. We believe in designing the right HR department, but focusing ONLY on the HR department is a narrow focus of the overall effectiveness of HR. 

As we have done empirical research with over 100,000 respondents and advisory services with dozens and dozens of HR leaders, we have distilled 9 dimensions of an effective HR department.

9 Dimensions of an Effective HR Department

  1. HR Reputation: What is the reputation of the HR Department?
  2. HR Context/Deliverables: What are the criteria (settings) that shape HR work?
  3. HR Strategy: What is the mission or strategy of the HR department focused on capabilities?
  4. HR Design (process, roles, and structure): How is the HR department organized?
  5. HR and Organization Capability: How does HR facilitate the definition and creation of organization capability?
  6. HR Analytics: How do we make better HR investments and choices?
  7. HR Practices: How do we create HR practices?
  8. HR Professionals: What do HR professionals need to be, know, and do to be effective?
  9. HR Work Style: How does HR go about doing its work

These nine criteria for an effective HR department build upon and extend the RBL Group’s empirical research and books in a number of areas, such as: RBL’s 13 milestones of HR transformation (HR Transformation), the research results from round 7 of the HR Competency Study (HRCS), research from “Leadership Brand,” RBL’s organization capability audit tool, RBL’s four practices of an HR department, RBL’s work on HR value creation and “HR from the Outside In,” and HR department questions from the book, “Victory through Organization.”

These nine criteria for an HR department may be seen as delivering value at four stages:

  1. Foundational/Administrative: HR focuses on efficiency.
  2. Functional: HR focuses on best practices.
  3. Strategic: HR focuses on delivering strategy.
  4. Outside in: HR focuses on stakeholders outside the organization.

This results in a matrix (see Figure 1) that can be used to audit the overall effectiveness of an HR department. These 9 domains represent the criteria for an effective overall HR department. 

Review the 9 domains by the 4 stages of HR departments in Figure 1 and assess where your HR department is today. Use a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “low” and 10 being “high”, to assess your HR department in each domain and stage.

The challenge is that you can’t do everything well, so if you’ve already addressed the low hanging fruit, think about what do you can decide to stop doing. You may be doing work in HR that the business loves you for that isn’t in line with where the business is going. How do you manage that? It’s about being aggressive with priorities. You need to take one or two items and get real clear. Take the nine domains and focus on the one or two. You get in trouble when you try and do all things equally.

Figure 1: