Elephant in the Room, Pt. 1

How do the parts of HRO add up?

By Patricia Taylor 
Most of us are familiar with the Indian tale of the blind men and the elephant: A group of blind men each touch an elephant to gain insight into what it looks like. Each person feels a different part—like an ear or the tail—but only one part.
This story has been told in a variety of ways in most cultures around the world. In some versions, the men work together to “see” the full elephant. In others, conflict arises, and the disagreements between the blind men become violent. In yet another version, the fable ends with a sighted man walking by and convincing the group of the true nature of the beast.
I have spent the last 10 years of my career touching different parts of the HR outsourcing elephant and representing individual components back to clients, the market, and my own organization. I have led in strategy, solution and technology design, outsourced lines of business, sales, and business development. I have touched every part of the HRO beast, from the front-end trunk of contingent and permanent worker recruitment through to the back-end tail of payroll processing and data integrity. I have approached the brain to harness the power of predictive and workforce analytics and have tried to join up the strength of core services and commercial models that deliver real value to business leaders, HR professionals and employees/contingent workers.
And, I can tell you, the HRO elephant is one big, complex beast with unique capabilities and characteristics to each part. Many wise men have extolled the virtues of each component without considering the whole. Others have come to encompass more and more of the whole from the start, beginning with payroll outsourcing moving to embrace HR administration, RPO, talent management, learning and development, and training.
Folks have also approached the elephant from different business perspectives. Finance focuses on payments and therefore has a vested interest in payroll and benefits. Procurement oversees supply chains and so looks to leverage recruitment, contingent workers, training, and travel. Group level operations leaders have considered outsourcing to be a part of a shared service to be rationalized, globalized, ERP-ized, and homogenized.
The technology provider landscape has moved forward as well, starting with niche players covering specific functionalities and services. Then it entered a phase of consolidation with a few large conglomerates buying and owning all the parts. Now, best-of-breed and service integration are coming to the fore, and buyers being asked to put together the elephant of their choice.
We are all certainly spoiled for choice. The options for outsourcing are endless: RPO, MSP, SaaS, remote, mobile, offshore, near-shore, onshore. You can deliver it yourself, you can be a master vendor, buy from a master, or you can buy the whole service outsourced from others. You can have one vendor or many, be global, local, or globalocal. You can focus on employees, contingent workers, contractors, or a total workforce.
And then, you can feel like me. As if we’ve all forgotten about the elephant. Isn’t it about the organization and its goals, the workers and their goals, and bringing them together in a way that maximizes opportunity and satisfaction for both? Have we confused ourselves and lost the path to collaboration by chasing the last and next blind man? Who is sighted in this landscape, and how and when are they going to pull the profile of the beast together in a wise and meaningful way?
It’s time to get back on track. It’s easy to get lost among myriad options and outcomes. Let’s try to see the elephant.
Patricia Taylor is an expert in future oriented services in talent management and HR outsourcing. This is her first of three articles tracing the evolution of HRO. She can be reached at

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

Recent Articles