Brown Sauce and European HRO

As the European market builds steam, look for HRO to become the secret ingredient to HR success.

by Andrew Kris

I have just put the phone down on my third business conversation this Sunday morning, hardly having had time to digest my bacon and eggs garnished, of course, with brown sauce. We Brits like that kind of saucy delicacy, even though the famous brand, HP Sauce, is now owned by the Frenchhorror of horrors! Anyway, all three apparently urgent business conversations were about the same thingHRO is really lifting off in Europe. According to my correspondents, none of them have had time to breathe in January, as their business development teams returned with more interest in this first month of 2005 alone than they had the entire last quarter.


So who is going to dominate the sector in Europe during the next few years? All three people had the same answerIBM and Accenture, with ACS, EDS, and others following behind. And dont forget Hewlett Packardif it can get its act together quickly enough with its nascent European BPO business. Now that Carly is leaving, will HP really do what she had envisioned and invest some of the gains from the projected sale of their printer business into BPO services?


The above projections about European HRO leaders are all reasonable guesses, but what about good firms with solid reputations like Hewitt/Exult, ADP, ARINSO, and Convergys? And what about Fidelity as it makes a grab for European property? They will be players in the marketplace, my business associates agreed, but dont forget that the big deals will be for the biggest firms. And at the end of the day, the largest organizations in the corporate world and in the public sector prefer to do business with people like themselves.


A wise business associate told me a while back, if ever worst comes to the worst, large firms like to know that they can sue someone. Not the kind of pessimistic view I would necessarily subscribe to, especially as a migrant from a very large firm to a small entrepreneurial organization, but I understand what she was saying. Still, in this fast-developing space, there is plenty of room for a second-tier HRO business to tackle the largest marketmid-size, multinational corporations, which in Europe means organizations with 5,000 to 15,000 employees.


Having listened patiently, at least what I would consider patiently, to their excited ramblings, I asked my callers what they thought would become of all these HR people displaced from their former roles. My question was stimulated by Peter Druckers 1999 feature in Harvard Business Review that was republished this past January. Titled Managing Oneself, the piece focuses on the need for people to take responsibility for managing their futures. Drucker emphasizes that we have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.


Some of the HR people that I meet seem to be reluctant to take the time to understand and embrace the change that HRO means for their organizations and for themselves. Do they think its just a fad? Do they think that when the fuss dies down it will all go away? History tells us that ignoring the inevitable or burying your head in the sand is no way to react to fundamental change.


The best HR executives have the wisdom and capacity to embrace HRO. They adapt what they do and how they do it to the changing needs of their organizations. I pleaded with my three callers to encourage their HR contacts to face reality rather than irrelevance and possible extinction.


And this is my plea to you: Work within your organizations to ensure that your HR teams understand the challenge and stay in touch with HRO. You cant kill itso make sure you prosper with it. As for all the members and leaders of HR associations, it is time to stop protecting the status quo. The United States, with several large HR associations, is in better shape than in Europe, where, excluding the CIPD in the United Kingdom, we have few strong national HR associations and thus little chance of using their influence to change the future of HR.


So how does HRO relate to brown sauce? Brits used to use it to spice up their otherwise bland traditional cooking, much in the way that Europeans are using HRO to spice up their HR. Now brown sauce is just a habitlets hope the same holds true for HRO!

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