Unsuccessful partnerships waste time and damage relationships, so how do you deliver excellent HR beyond your own organisation?

We’re entering into more and more strategic partnerships and joint ventures with other organisations, but ‘the failure rate for alliances hovers between 60% and 70%[1]. This staggering figure, and the fact that many of the reasons for failure are people-centric, provides a strong case for us to look at the role of HR in supporting partnership success.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Professor Paul Sparrow and Lilian Otaye from Lancaster University to try and understand more about this issue and uncover the main challenges and opportunities for HR in not just being responsible for the people agenda for their own workforce, but also across partnership networks.

Today at the CIPD Annual Conference, Paul presented on the findings from our initial research. We have published two reports from this initial research - part 1 can be viewed here. There was a great turn-out at Paul’s session and the audience asked several questions afterwards, confirming that managing strategic partnerships is still very much a topical issue and continues to present so many ongoing challenges for business.

So what did we find out from our research? The world of work is becoming more networked and multifaceted, which is having significant implications for HR. Managers are leading teams that include people who report directly to them, as well as those who are employed by partner organisations, meaning their role also becomes more complex. We’re now not only dealing with working across, and managing, our own dispersed and international business units, but also with partnering arrangements and 3rd parties.

In the first report we highlighted that HR plays a significant role in managing the risks and opportunities presented by partnerships, as well as determining who leads them and how capabilities for learning and knowledge sharing are developed.

In the second report we look further at the specific implications that managing beyond the organisation can have on the HR structure and processes needed. In this report we discuss six overarching issues that HR need to consider when deciding on the best HR architecture to adopt...

1.    Understand the way the whole partnering network operates to inform HR choices

2.    Recognise that supporting partnership arrangements needs to be a core HR capability

3.    Differentiate the level of strategic HR support between arrangements

4.    Design HR to deal with crisis situations

5.    Develop leadership for the network

6.    Deal with the issue of employees’ dual identity

And, excitingly, we met up after the conference to plan the next stage of our research together. We’ll be working with case study organisations because, although we have uncovered the main people-centric issues HR has to deal with across networks, there are still unanswered questions about how these issues can be dealt with in practice. While we’re in planning mode and on the lookout for case study organisations, we’re looking for opportunities to reflect and invite thoughts and comments more widely.

In short, ‘unsuccessful partnerships waste time and damage relationships, which can lose money, reputation and people’ (PWC, 2009, p4[2]). With many aspects of strategic partnering arrangements dependent on relationships and management behaviour, as well as knowledge sharing and learning capabilities, there is a clear opportunity for HR to step up. If HR don’t do this, someone else will.

You can read the full Beyond the Organisation Part 2 report here. Tweet your thoughts to @CIPD or me at @MillerJillC or let me know if you’re interested in being a case study in the next stage of our research!

[1] Hughes, J. And Weiss, J. (2007) Simple rules for making alliances work. Harvard Business Review. Available at: http://hbr.org/2007/11/simplerules-for-making-alliances-work/ar/1

[2] PwC (2009) Strategic partnerships: the real deal? (p4). Available at: pwc.co.uk/en_UK/uk/assets/pdf/strategic-partnerships-the-realdeal.pdf

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  • Anonymous

    I've just come from a fascinating discussion about partnership delivery of HR solutions in the context of NHS Reforms.  I think the issues that we uncovered in the opening reports are going to run for several years, and apply across many organisational settings.