HR Business Process Transformation on track to improve HR service to employees

This is the first in a series of articles explaining the goals and key components of the Human Resources Business Process Transformation.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2013, Penn State's human resources (HR) community embarked on a multi-year initiative focused on creating a new HR service delivery model that provides more strategic HR support and increased customer service. This will be achieved by more efficiently and effectively aligning HR resources and leveraging redesigned policies and business processes with updated tools and technology.

After three years of steady progress, the Human Resources Business Process Transformation (HRBPT) is closing in on its goal to implement the organizational structure and processes to provide this higher-level of service to the entire University.

“Our ability to be more strategically focused is the key takeaway that the HRBPT will provide,” said Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray. “When I think about the strategic imperatives, along with preserving, protecting and advancing the mission of world-class education, at the top is our ability to recruit and retain world-class talent, in faculty, administrators and staff positions. In the past, we haven’t been able to focus on that in the way we should. This initiative will allow colleges and academic units to free themselves from performing the important but routine HR transactions, and concentrate on the important task of educating, and recruiting and retaining world-class talent.”

Slated to be operational in June 2017, the HRBPT will create a more business-focused human resources organization that is accountable, adds value as a business unit, is aligned across the University, and maintains some flexibility in delivering services.

“The current process has served the institution for many years, but times have changed, the environment has evolved, and we need to change,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones. “There are certainly challenges to which we must respond, but also great opportunities.”

The effort began back in March 2013 with HRBPT’s Phase 1 — Current State Assessment — which focused on laying the groundwork for the transformation, including assessing the current state of HR, building the future state framework, performing stakeholder analysis, and creating the HRBPT business case and roadmap.

During Phase 1, HR enlisted a variety of methods, including meetings with senior leadership and key business partners, discussions with HR staff, and a survey of those performing HR work, to determine if the current HR service delivery model was optimal or sustainable for the future.

The research revealed that approximately $70 million was being spent on HR-related activities, that only 3 percent of HR work reflected any strategic planning, that HR resource allocations were not deliberate or thoughtful, and that the HR technologies were sub-optimal. Most importantly, the research showed that HR work was highly distributed and very transactional, with high risk for being legally noncompliant based on disparate and distributed processes.

During Phase 1, HR learned that the current HR model is decentralized, with a large number of University employees — as many as 1,200 individuals both inside and outside of HR — performing transactional HR activities that may be duplicative or inconsistent.

Phase 2 — Future State Design — focused on designing the future state. From July to December 2015, Phase 2 identified key areas for improvement, which included policy harmonization, process redesign, organizational design and technology. Those key areas became active workstreams, and teams began onboarding team members, outlining charters, developing project plans, and delving further into designing the future state of HR.

With the start of Phase 3 — Implementation — in December 2015, the HRBPT began refinement and implementation of the plans developed by the key workstreams in Phase 2.

“The HRBPT will improve service delivery and allow HR staff to focus on college, unit and campus strategic priorities while also providing support to our efforts to attract, develop and retain a high-quality and diverse workforce,” said Susan Basso, vice president and chief human resources officer. “We want to provide consistent and positive experiences for faculty, staff and student-employees, reflective of both the University’s and Human Resources’ strategic plans.” 

While the transformation is moving the department away from a decentralized model, Basso said it is important to clarify that HR is not completely centralizing. In fact, some functions, such as faculty recruitment, will continue to be within the ownership and purview of the faculty with support from HR professionals.

Instead, a new HR shared services model will adapt the best practices of both centralized and decentralized model concepts, and create a service culture that is data driven, offers an efficient delivery model, and utilizes best practices.

The future HR service delivery model will provide both strategic and operational support to the University by streamlining processes and providing services based on areas of expertise.

“The new model offered in the HRBPT allows us to take the best of both a centralized model and a decentralized model, and bring them together around a shared services model,” said Jones. “It strikes me as something that is very well suited to what we are trying to achieve.”

To assist with testing and further refinement of concepts, an HRBPT Pilot program was launched in July 2015 involving the College of Arts & Architecture and the College of Education. This provided the first opportunity to test some of the concepts developed by the HRBPT workstreams.

In the pilot program, initial work was focused on streamlining processes across the two colleges as well as introducing the new roles within the HR shared services model. The roles and how they would work were essential elements to the pilot, and feedback was collected to guide adjustments to the plan as needed. Additional pilot programs in more colleges and business units are currently being implemented.

Since January, senior HR leadership has been meeting in small groups, often one-on-one, with unit leaders, academic deans and campus chancellors to obtain their feedback and to discuss how the HRBPT will improve service delivery with refinement in four areas: HR organizational design, technology, policy and processes.

Watch for HRBPT updates and features exploring individual components such as technology, policies and processes in future issues of Penn State Today, and visit the effort’s website at for more information.

Last Updated September 13, 2016