Introducing The Systemic HR™ Initiative

This week we formally introduce the Systemic HR™ Initiative, our multi-year program to help HR professionals and their teams to transform, evolve, and redefine their roles in business.

This work is the culmination of 25 years of research and advisory consulting among tens of thousands of organizations, reflecting the need for HR organizations to redefine their strategy, role, and operating model within companies. The Systemic HR Initiative includes a deep body of research, a series of monthly activation programs (workshops and webinars), and ongoing case studies to highlight best-practices. Corporate members also get access to diagnostics, education, and consulting.

The Maturity Model: How HR Has Changed

Let’s start with the punchline: HR as a profession is undergoing a rapid and disruptive change. Many historic HR practices are built around hierarchical job models, linear career progression, structured talent management, tiered leadership development, and external recruitment as the key to growth. And they were built in a world where talent was abundant.

Today these presumptions have changed. We operate companies around people and skills, not jobs and positions; people grow their careers in many directions; leaders are identified and developed at every level; and companies grow through dynamic teams, internal mobility, and capability development. And we live in a world where talent and skills are scarce. We call this, “The Post-Industrial Age.”

The Josh Bersin Company - Post-Industrial HR Model

Many traditional disciplines like compensation and rewards, diversity and inclusion, and employee wellbeing and engagement, are highly interconnected with every other discipline. In other words, “no HR practice stands alone.” And that means that HR professionals themselves, who are largely trained in functional disciplines, have to become “full-stack HR professionals” and learn how to design, consult, and advise their teams.

We studied hundreds of companies and conducted thousands of interviews and essentially found that the HR Profession looks like this:

Josh Bersin Company Systemic HR Maturity Model

Evolving Through This Journey

As the maturity model shows, HR teams evolve over time.

Level 1: Transactional Compliance.

Initially focused on hiring, pay, benefits, and compliance, the early stage (and early day) HR functions were back-office and administrative. And in many companies this is still what HR departments do. We just met with a large conglomerate in Asia which has dozens of operating units around the world. Most of the HR teams there are level 1 groups, focused on hiring, pay, performance management, and regulatory compliance. These teams often have HR business partners, but they are typically administrative and operate as generalists, helping offload managers from HR tasks.

Level 2: Efficient Service Delivery.

While level 1 teams get the job done, they tend to grow in a chaotic way. There are often multiple HR and payroll platforms, distributed learning and recruiting teams, and lots of variations in the business partner role. At some point the CEO or CFO wakes up and says “we need to clean this up, buy a new global HR platform, and perform an HR Transformation.”

Here is where we create the “Service Delivery” model of HR. In this stage the company builds call centers, federated centers of excellence, and a more formally defined business partner team. And driven by the implementation of some global HR system, the company tries to “turn off” and consolidate the distributed, often inconsistent, payroll and core HR systems.

While these transformations are valuable (they save money, create more unified data, and give the HR function more focus), they still largely focus on defining HR as a “service function.” So while we may focus on employee experience, self-service, and retention as goals, the ultimate design point is to build what I often call “the 1980’s IT department.” In other words, “we are here to help.”

Level 3: Solution Centric.

At level 3 the company wakes up and realizes there are a myriad of “solutions” we need to build. We need a global onboarding program, a new leader program, and perhaps a series of programs on culture, career development, or internal mobility. Now the HR team has to define “solution owners” or product managers, and these solutions incorporate new technology platforms, a new experience for employees, and redefining the role of the service centers.

In the early stage of level 3 these “solutions” are isolated within each domain of HR, but more and more of them become cross-disciplinary over time. An onboarding program, for example, may be developed as a learning solution, but ultimately it’s much more. Programs like “hybrid work,” or “global mobility” or “leadership development” each fall into this category, but sometimes more complex solutions are needed.

A large Pharma company, for example, built an entire HR “team” focused on sales performance, bringing together recruiters, org design specialists, L&D specialists, employee engagement, and compensation into a “solution group” for sales. The CHRO told me this was one of the most high-value projects he ever launched, and it was only possible because he broke down the silos in Level 2 to create a “solution team” in Level 3.

Here is where HR professionals have to become cross-trained, learn about design thinking, and start to operate like product managers. They segment the workforce, they study the feedback for their programs, and they iterate and improve them over time. And each “solution” or “initiative” is very business-aligned (often led by a business leader) and held highly accountable for results. (The Academy at Bank of America is a great example of this.)

Level 4: Systemic and Problem-Oriented.

And that leads to level 4. While these solutions bring HR teams together, they don’t always address the issue of local business partners with massive problems, the need for a Systemic model of hiring (The Four R Model: Recruit, Retain, Reskill, Redesign), and the urgent problems of isolated skills gaps in a team, underperformance or poor leadership, or the job design and massive changes brought about by AI. We now need HR to function like a professional services organization.

The Four R Model by The Josh Bersin Company

At this point the company creates a “swat team” or “strategy team” of senior HR professionals, we often professionalize and highly train the business partners, and we start a serious job of HR professional development, job rotation, and developmental assignments for senior HR leaders. HR professionals suddenly realize they need to learn how to operate as senior consultants, and the HR team becomes much flatter, more agile, and interconnected.

The traditional Centers of Excellence (recruiting, talent acquisition, rewards, etc.) are now “virtualized” and they are either combined or start working in a highly interconnected way.

The Journey Takes Time And Value Is Created At Each Step

The ultimate goal is not to “make HR better,” but to help HR become ever-more effective at driving people strategies for the business. Most HR leaders know and understand things about the company that individual line managers don’t see, but they’re often locked in a bureaucracy and have difficulty driving change. At levels 3 and 4 the HR team is bold, creative, and solution-oriented, and they don’t just deliver “off the shelf solutions” but they listen, adapt, and add value in an integrated way.

Our research identifies the key steps on this journey, and we know that every company (and every HR professional) is going through this each year. As the company changes, and new products, offerings, and market conditions take place, HR has to adapt as well. So companies who understand Systemic HR are always changing, they move people around, and they reorganize themselves to constantly add value.

Underneath this is a team of HR professionals who are highly skilled, deeply connected, and always learning (about business, psychology, economics, technology, and HR).

Join Us On This Journey

We have been focused on the growth and development of HR for more than two decades. This initiative includes monthly events, a series of new programs in The Josh Bersin Academy, a series of in-depth research studies and guides (available to corporate members), and our exciting new AI platform Galileo™. Galileo is the world’s first AI-powered expert for HR, enabling HR professionals and teams to quickly learn, collaborate, and share information through the power of Generative AI.

  • Download the infographic, executive summary, and video to learn more about Systemic HR.
  • The full Definitive Guide to Human Resources: Systemic HR™ is available to  Josh Bersin Company Corporate Members. It includes a detailed description of the Systemic HR Framework, the eighteen essential practices, a comprehensive HR Maturity Model, and steps to progress in the journey towards systemic HR. We also include in-depth examples from companies like IBM, Mastercard, NewYork-Presbyterian, Providence Health, Walmart, LinkedIn, TomTom, LEGO, ING, Telstra, DBS, and more.
  • Join the waitlist for Galileo™, the world’s first AI-powered expert HR assistant that helps turn you into
  • Participate in the Global HR Capability Project to assess your HR capabilities across 92 capabilities and 20 capability areas and learn how to improve.
  • Contact us to become a JBC Member for access to action-oriented, practical research, assessments, and diagnostics, learning programs, community, and much more.
  • Join 40,000+ HR professionals in the Josh Bersin Academy to build full-stack HR capabilities across all topics of HR with 25 certificate courses.

Additional Information

Introducing Galileo™, The World’s First AI-Powered Expert Assistant For HR