Professor Ulrich is regarded as the most influential human resources (HR) thinker and one of the most sought after speakers on human resources today.
He has consulted for many of the Fortune 500 companies. He is also known for the famous HR business partner model that is used by many international and regional blue chip firms to structure the work of human resources. A case in point is Debswana, the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value. Before moving into full-time research, consulting and teaching, Ulrich was voted the most influential HR thinker in 2008 by the prestigious UK-based HR Magazine. He was also named the lead management educator by the Businessweek. Ulrich has authored numerous books and ground-breaking concepts. Ross School of Business School is renowned for its thorough Management Development Programme for HR Executives. Some of the HR stars who have attended this prestigious programme include Charlotte Mokoena, the HR Director of Telkom.
I, (BC) recently caught up with Dave Ulrich (DU) to share insights on the current and future state of HR.
BC: Recently, your team came up with a new HR competency model. In that model you said a high-performing HR practitioner must be a ‘’credible activist”. Please unpack the “credible activist’’ concept for us.
DU: We found that HR professionals needed to be both credible and activist. Credibility refers to building a relationship of trust with those they work with. This comes from being dependable, predictable, reliable, accessible, and sociable. People like being with the HR professionals. But this is not enough. HR professionals are activists when they have a point of view about how the business operates and how to help the business operate better. This comes from being aware of the customer and investor expectations and business goals.
BC: You talk about “Doing HR with attitude”. Perhaps you would like to shed more light, citing case(s) and/or anecdotes?
DU: HR with an attitude means that the HR professional has a strong point of view about business results. In Flextronics, HR professionals meet with customers to find out how to better organise Flextronics services to meet their needs. They hire, train, pay, and communicate around customer expectations. In an insurance firm, the HR professionals often anticipate customer demand and propose hiring and training requirements before the actual demand.
BC: We have seen HR as a structured profession progress through four C’s namely conflict, compliance, catalysis and contribution. Contribution is about HR bringing a “unique and powerful perspective” to business. How can HR in Africa bring a unique and powerful perspective to business?
DU: In most emerging markets HR can bring insights into both individual ability and organisation capability to their business goals. Individual ability refers to the competence, commitment, and contribution of their employees. Competence is the ability to do the job and to match person to position; commitment is the employee value proposition that ensure employee engagement; contribution is the meaning and purpose that employees find from work. Organisation capability refers to the culture, processes, or routines in an organisation. An organisation needs to combine individual abilities into collective patterns that define what the organisation is about. In Africa, as markets grow, both individual and organisation requirements are essential to success.
BC: You have characterised the work of HR using the “flow typology” namely: flow of talent, flow of performance, flow of communication and flow of work. The last two types of flow are emerging. With respect to communication, won’t HR duplicate the work currently done by other professions such as public relations and marketing?
DU: HR can complement work in public relations and marketing. Messages shared outside the organisation with customers and communities should be similar to messages shared inside the organisation to employees. In some companies, the mixed messages of what is shared outside versus inside creates hypocrisy and confusion. When customer expectations are matched with employee goals, both customers and employees focus on the same issues.
BC: Of late you have been saying HR must market itself as a professional services firm. Why is that so and does HR have credible human capital risk management models to offer business?
DU: Any professional services firm persists because it turns knowledge into client productivity. A law firm turns regulatory insights into firm decisions; an accounting firm turns audit and risk management knowledge into client services; an advertising agency turns marketing and consumer insights into programs and services. HR has information about people, performance, information, and work and these centres of expertise can turn these insights into client (line manager) productivity. Risk management anticipates what can go wrong (or right) and how to plan for it.
BC: Thank you Dave.
We are giving away one of Professor Dave’s ground-breaking books, HR Transformation: Building Human Resources from the outside In to one lucky reader. To be eligible visit http//:humancapitaltelescope.blogspot.com to share your thoughts on any of the issues raised in this interview. Please indicate your full name and e-mail address.