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People-centric or Work-centric solution design

It has become fashionable to say: “people are at the heart of our business”. There are few CEO’sand HC Executives that do not utter these words today. No one in their right mind can contest the truth of this statement especially when looking at all the research and case studies that abound, on building sustainable organisations and how organisations will compete in the future.


A fundamental question does, however, need to be asked. Do we really understand what this statement implies or what we want it to mean in our organisation?For example, does it mean:

  1. That we create people-centric organisations? Thus, build organisations around people and their competencies? So, we construct an organisation around the assets and develop those assets to become even greater assets? So, in essence – the Organisations People Capability drives its business model and strategy.
  2. That we create work-centric organisationswith an optimal “fit” of people? Building organisations of people that are contracted to deliver on designed outputs the organisation needs, further developing and utilising the individual’s competence to improve their ability to deliver? In essence constructing an organisation around a common purpose, goal and strategy (work-centric) and then aligning the people (competence) we need in the most optimal way.
  3. A bit of both. This response is not a problem per se. In fact, most Organisations probably need to apply both these philosophies. But which one is dominant and when or why will organisations use the other and what are the implications/risks?


To some these two options sound remarkably similar but on close analysis they are really miles apart. The departure point of the “science” of linking people to an organisation though Work and optimising this link constantly is very different from building an organisation around its people.  Most modern organisations that are not family run strive to link people and the organisation through a work-centric approach[i]and by exception apply a people-centric approach to some critical and strategic positions.


Work-centric solutions are at least in part the basis of most Human Capital solutions today.  Technology deployed Enterprise Solutions (ERP) and Functional Specialist Solutions (mostly e-performance, e-recruitment or e-learning solutions), echo this design philosophy.


An uncomfortable yet important question that should be asked is if we as HC professionals know or understand enough about the science needed to make work-centric solutions work. None of the tertiary institutions teach it in totality. Most dip into areas of interest only.  Providers sell a piece of the solution organisations are looking for, but do the different pieces fit together for a truly end-to-end architecturally sound solution? This is the main driver and motivation for developing a standard for HR Solutions Architecture using a work-centric approach.

By: Otto Pretorius

See articles on work-centric solution design and the SIPP®functional architecture standard at

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