Here are the detailed responses from our EAB members. The table offers a quick summary and the full responses are in the remainder of the text.

What you see here is the breadth and diversity required in real thought leadership. Each member of the team tells the story from their perspective resulting in a resource that can help you frame your argument.

AnalystConsider OutsourcingNever Outsource
Heather BussingInvestigations of discrimination or harassment claimsPerformance Reviews or the decisions that come from them
Bob CorlettTransactional HRLeadership and Performance Management
Jay CrossAnything that could be done by a machine Everything that requires / improves your ‘secret sauce’
Dr. Todd DewettPaperwork dense / compliance related functions Talent Management / Leadership Development
Marc EffronEverything is on the tableHR Generalist / Business Partner
Claudia FaustTransactional ProcessesRecruiting
Amitai GivertzTransactional Processes: Payroll, Benefits and RecruitingSelection of an Outsourcing Partner
Colin KingsburyLow ROI functions where mediocre
work is accepatable
High ROI Functions where real advantage can be gained
George LaRocqueAdmin and Transactional ProcessesWorkforce Planning and Strategy Development
Neil McCormickRecruitingHuman Resource Strategy
Mark McMillanBenefits AdministrationTalent Strategy Development
Rusty RueffTalent AcquisitionHR Generalists / Business Partners
Steve SmithRecruitmentKnowing your business
Hank StringerRecruitment / Staffing /
Onboarding / Exit Interviews
Compliance processes and issues

Jay Cross—Learning and Systems Expert

A. One? Outsource everything that could be turned over to a machine in time, e.g. benefits administration and payroll.

B. One? Keep everything that requires your secret sauce, e.g. management development, keeping core values alive, mentoring.

Heather Bussing—Employment Attorney

A. Always outsource investigations of discrimination or harassment claims to an employment lawyer that is not with the company or the firm that will be defending any lawsuit. You need someone who has experience, knows the legal issues and who will make the most objective analysis of the investigation. You also want someone who can be an unbiased witness, because your defense team can’t.

B. Never outsource any part of performance reviews or any decisions that come from them. No review process substitutes for the additional knowledge and relationships that are based on being there everyday and provide a fair and accurate picture of what is really going on –both good and bad. You would also get completely torn apart by opposing counsel if it ever resulted in a lawsuit.

Rusty Rueff—Talent Management, Technology, Arts & Entertainment Consultant

A. I think it is time to explore a full outsourcing of Talent Acquisition. Companies can’t afford to layer on fixed costs but they still need great talent quality and potentially volume. It takes too much time and heavy lifting to scale up and down with internal recruiters, even though they may be contract recruiters. The machine sputters, pops and backfires as demand goes up and it groans and seizes as demand declines. The RPOs have caught up with sophistication, technology and finesse. After the early 1990 downsizings HR Relocation Departments disappeared and when they came back they were called onsite services provided by companies like Prudential, Cendant and Coldwell-Banker. The people who managed the moves of relocating employees sat in the cubicles next to the Staffing or Compensation Departments and they looked like employees, acted like employees but were outsourced and had behind them the power of companies who were investing in technology and services because they had scale, heft and focus. The same can be done with Talent Acquisition and it is time to move that way.

B. I tend to never say never, but I would be most hesitant to take away the senior generalist/business partner. When done well, these are full-fledged business leaders who practice the craft of HR to grow, improve and reinforce the fundamentals and performance of the business. Even the employee relations portion of their work could be outsourced but nothing replaces that trust, influence and impact that a right-hand HR Generalist can provide. They could be the only person who is not outsourced, but I think these people should be on the depth chart for bigger and other things in the company and they should be employees.

Bob Corlett—Staffing Advisors

A. Outsourcing is a decision about where to spend your limited energy. The CEO of a government contractor once told me that if his accounting systems were given an “A” rating by government auditors, he would feel that he overinvested in accounting. In his case a “C” would have sufficed, and the extra energy spent getting to “A” should have been redirected to something that delivered more value to his customers.

Every minute someone remains on your payroll you are investing in their education. We do not live in a static world, people must constantly adapt to new circumstances. (“Did you get the memo? We’re putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that’d be great…” Office Space)

So, to decide what functions to keep and what functions to outsource, simply ask yourself: If I invested more time and energy to continuously improve our ability to do __(insert function here)___ will that investment yield any of the following results: A competitive advantage in the marketplace. An impact our customers would care about. If improving a function yields no external advantage, then seriously consider outsourcing it so you can focus your energy on something that does matter.

Using this test, most of transactional HR administration falls into the outsource category (payroll, benefits, etc.). Conversely, most of Human Capital does not (recruiting, talent management, workforce planning).

B. What should never be outsourced is leadership and performance management – defining expectations, and making a personal connection between your team and the mission. Consider outsourcing absolutely everything that prevents you from leaving your office to work directly with the people who achieve your organization’s mission.

Steve Smith—Starr Tincup

A. Recruitment … because most organizations suck at it. OK, I know what you’re saying. The unemployment rate is still hovering at postwar highs. Well, look at the unemployment rate for those 25 and older with college degrees – 4.8 percent for December. Those are the difference makers, the people who you have been hiring, are hiring and will be hiring in the near future. For those people, the War for Talent never really went away. Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) can find better people, faster and at a lower cost than you can on your own. The Europeans figured this out awhile back. And 2011 will be the year that RPO finally gets on the radar in the U.S.

B. Knowing your business. Most HR folks can tell you which HR areas they want to outsource in the next few years, but what are your business’s core initiatives for the next 12 to 36 months? Too many HR people don’t have a clue. Read the annual report. Talk to sales and finance. Understand the direction of the business, then mold your HR (and outsourcing) strategies to fit it.

Dr. Todd Dewett—Management & Leadership Expert

A. The function that should be outsourced: any paperwork-dense compliance-related function. This will allow you to have a focused outside specialist chase down numbers and facts for reporting internally and/or externally depending on the specific function, freeing your people to focus on more valued added functions. This also takes a common target for employee ridicule (justified or not) and removes it from the formal organization, potentially supporting improved employee relationships (especially between HR and everyone else).

B. The function that should never be outsourced: talent management / leadership development. As HR continues its journey towards a permanent seat at the strategy table, nothing provides HR pros the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the business better than the thoughtful programs and resources they assemble which show a detailed knowledge of the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the workforce.

Amitai Givertz—AMG Management Advisors

What is one HR function you should consider outsourcing and why?
It goes without saying that transactional processes that can be delivered with greater efficiencies than could be achieved in-house should be outsourced. Payroll and benefits come to mind, and, depending on the nature of the beast, recruiting too.

However, there are processes within HR that are not widely outsourced that could benefit from being managed externally. For example:

a) Exit interviews: The benefit may not be in lowering operating costs but in ensuring consistency and objectivity in gathering the data that feeds other core HR functions/decision-making: retention programming, employer branding, performance management, etc.

b) Managing complaints/whistle-blowing: Employees are more likely to be forthcoming, and the feedback and recourse for employers more reasonable, if complaints could be handled by an ombudsman. Having an independent party arbitrate complaints and oversee compliance issues would likely mitigate risk too.

What is one HR function that should never be outsourced and why?
That depends on the levels of complexity within the organization and its maturity. For example, highly complex and mature organizations should not outsource HR functions that impact competitive advantage – workforce planning, performance management, succession planning, organizational culture, etc. — while smaller organizations would derive competitive advantage if they would outsource those things, traditionally viewed as sacrosanct.

The single HR function that should NEVER be outsourced is the selection of an HR outsource partner.

Hank Stringer—Stringer Executive Search

A. Recruiting / Staffing / On Boarding / Exit Interviews – Because talent matters to the execution of the business plan…without the right talent executing the right plan success is futile. How we recruit and on board the right talent directly relates to how well they will do their job in our culture while interviewing those who leave us helps us to understand who they are, why they left and IF we need to make changes in culture, personnel, business model et al. Third party voices motivated to do a good job – the right things can have greater impact and believability with all internal and external parties involved in the recruiting process. Too many internal voices managing these strategic initiatives gets political and that is not the right way to attract and retain great talent.

B. Compliance process and issues. They know it, it is administrative, it is important and must be done for the good of the company. Those with internal ties and loyalties to the company have a vested interest in insuring compliance and administrative processes are handled appropriately.

Neil McCormick—Talent 2

A. A list of usual suspects would include the processes of recruitment, vendor management, learning management, payroll, health benefits for a start. As we’ve been asked to nominate just one then I’d go about the selection by looking for the tactical deliverable that gives the biggest return in terms of improved value for money. (Value for money being the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the activity). This may vary from organisation to organisation. Typically though, the tactical delivery of recruitment activity offers large returns for even modest improvements in regard to value for money.

B. While I never say never I would find it extremely difficult to consider outsourcing any activity that related to development or management of Human Resource Strategy. Managing the strategy and the high level delivery (outsource relationships) are key. If the strategy is correct the tactics can comfortably be outsourced as long as these relationships are managed effectively.

George LaRocque—HRxAdvisors

A. While I don’t advocate outsourcing for every company or culture, I do believe that HR should *consider* outsourcing all infrastructure, administrative functions, high volume transactional processing, and the tactical execution of those functions.

Why? HR needs to focus on where they have the most impact for the employee and, in turn, the organization. This is not in filing forms, publishing documents/paper and managing automated systems. If it doesn’t require “native cultural intelligence” or a deep understanding of your business , then it may be cost and time effective to outsource it.

If your HR team is spending time on administrative tasks, highly repetitive transactions, managing infrastructure for those functions, then they are not in the field and on the floor gathering the information and giving the insight to ensure the company is ready to reach its objectives and handle its next challenge.

B. Workforce Planning and Strategy Development – in any form. Why? Understanding where the business is today – where it’s going – the existing and required resources has implications that can not be satisfied with a part time view – or a perspective that is anything but tied directly to the outcomes. This can’t be one of a “portfolio of considerations and decisions” it has to be the only consideration. It’s too critical to the business.

Mark McMillan—Talent Function Group

A. Benefits administration. Of all of the administrative functions, this one is the furthest from impacting the competitive advantage of a company.

B. I don’t believe in the word “never” and I think that the the word “outsource” can be misleading. For instance, companies might outsource executive recruitment to someone like Spencer Stuart for a CFO search. The executives involved in working with Spencer Stuart will most likely be very engaged in the process.

The real question is the engagement and competency of people involved in completing the work. This can be equally bad or good between insource or outsource. What’s that old saying – “Eskimos have 100 different words for snowflake.” Perhaps we should invent a more complex language for the topic of outsourcing. At gunpoint, I would say that a company cannot outsource the development of their talent strategy.

Colin Kingsbury—HRM Direct

The answer to both lies in a single clarifying question: What makes you special? The greatest challenge in business, now more than ever, is not to measure up, but to stand out.

Your clients, employees, hiring managers, and candidates swim in a sea of infinite choice and unlimited information. Best-practice guidelines are useful as a touchstone, but it’s worth bearing in mind that all your competitors are reading the same things you are. Using them as a how-to guide will lead you to be more like everyone else in your industry, which is to say, less special. They are a ruler, not a blueprint.

Greatness, in companies and individuals, is defined less by reliable competence in all things than by overwhelming excellence in just one.

HR oversees a vast assortment of responsibilities, many of which, for any given company, absolutely must get done, but do not offer any opportunity to be special. And, it is important to attempt to see differences as an outsider would.

Like a field biologist breathlessly describing how the tiny curl at the tip of a leaf distinguishes a flower as an entirely new species, the things which domain experts care deeply about often appear of trivial importance to the rest of the world. And here, perception often carries the weight of fact.

So, “different enough” often means very different indeed. In my view, unless you can think of a good way in which a certain function can be performed differently in-house, then the question of outsourcing is merely one of operational practicality. By the same token, if you can think of a way to do something better, in a way that really matters, then any function is fair game to perform internally–the one company that *doesn’t* outsource payroll may in fact be the cleverest of them all.

Claudia Faust—Improved Experience

I recommend outsourcing transactional activities which require targeted expertise and have measurable outcomes; payroll, feedback mechanisms, talent attraction. These activities can be planned and delegated, freeing up internal resources to focus on strategy, quality, and communication.

That said, the more control you need over how a transaction happens, the less you should consider outsourcing it.

And although I would consider outsourcing some recruiting functions (sourcing and executive search, specifically), I would never eliminate recruiting as an internal HR function; the need for internally knowledgeable deal-making-and-closing experts is too close to the heartbeat of the business, and in vendor hands that are poorly managed or just plain greedy the business stands to lose too much.

Marc Effron—The Talent Strategy Group

A. Every HR function except the HR generalist/business partner function should be on the table for outsourcing. Why? Well, we should actually flip the question and ask which HR function has proven so valuable that it should be in-sourced? Like any other function, HR has no independent right to exist. To have an internal HR department there should be a clear value equation that shows why the myriad of available external resources can’t meet those needs.

B. The HR business partner should be the day-to-day “talent manager” who is an integral part of the operating team. The company knowledge and trusting relationships required to excel in that role are only gained from being an insourced function.

Read previous post:
Who Pays?

I wonder whether the HR and Recruiting professionals who are a part of the mob calling BS on The Ladders...