Interviewreihe: Erwartungen an das Personalmanagement -44-
Everywhere there is a lot of communication about Human Resource Managers and Human Resource Management - but there is less communication with individual HR Managers in person. In these discussions everything revolves around the current processes and performance of HRM but the HR community increasingly talks about the overall prospective of “HRM” as well. These controversial opinions, often expressed in unusual harsh tones in my view, were an occasion for me to start a series of interviews with customers, partners and insiders of HR Management. Today I am very happy to talk with Dave Ulrich. He has been called the "Father of Modern HR" and has been ranked as the #1 Most Influential International Thought Leader in HR. In his brand new book “Victory Through Organization” (written with his colleagues Dave Kryscynski, Mike Ulrich (his son) and Wayne Brockbank) he and his colleagues present groundbreaking research - that winning the war for talent requires more than managing people; it requires an organization that turns individual people into organizational capabilities. The methods laid out in this book are based on the culmination of 30 years of research. In this book Dave and his partners give advice for the next step in evolution of HR. I would like to start by thanking Dave for this interview.
Peter: What is your position in HR Management or rather where are your links to HR Management?
Dave: I am a Professor at the Ross School of Business and a Partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on delivering value through human resources, leadership, and organization. In these roles I am privileged to observe and to study organization capabilities and individual competencies in firms around the world. I do research, writing, speaking, teaching, and coaching. My professional passions are to continually learn and to add value through ideas with impact. My real passions are my wife of 40 years, 3 kids, and 8 grandkids and food!
Peter: What is your opinion of the current status or standing of HR Managers?
Dave: I am an overall optimist, based on experience and on data. In any field (or change effort), there is often a normal distribution of competence: about 20% are outstanding; 20% are laggards; and 60% are in the middle. I try to learn from the top 20% and try to not get distracted by the bottom 20%, then focus on the 60%. We have now collected data from over 90,000 people in 7 rounds since 1987 on the overall competencies of HR professionals. Our data shows that HR professionals (probably the 60%) have made enormous progress in demonstrating competencies that add value. While there are obviously the 20% who lag and will not likely ever add much value (which is normal in all professions), the HR field as a whole has made remarkable progress.
Peter: In your opinion, why is HR Management so often and to some extent fiercely criticized today?
Dave: We also learned from this 30 year research that HR professionals are their own worst enemy. In all 7 rounds, HR professionals rate themselves lower on their competencies than they are rated by others. Sometimes, when people lament or bemoan the progress of “HR” in general, I feel like yelling, “stop it” … we (as a field) are doing better (not perfect, but better). In addition, many who are supposed thought leaders in the HR space do not build on previous knowledge, but re-create the work that others have done. I see well intended HR leaders writing books, doing articles, or giving talks on topics that have been well researched, but never alluding to the previous research. This keeps the field from moving ahead as quickly as we could. An engineer in today’s world who says, ‘I have discovered the Pentium chip” would be mocked because the Pentium chip was viable 20 years ago and thoughtful engineers are moving far along the next generation of chip design. Likewise in HR, we often seem to have debates about past practices that have evolved dramatically. And, in so doing, we criticize the past rather than build on it. An engineer would not say “the Pentium chip was bad”, but they would acknowledge it was part of an evolutionary process. Likewise in HR, we need to create a evolutionary mindset of ideas and impact.
Peter: Where do you anticipate specific need for change in performance/service and provision of HR Management?
Dave: Plus ca change; plus c’est la meme chose. Some things will stay the same; others will change. We should stay the same if focusing HR on the value we create; in our latest book Victory Through Organization, we start by saying HR is not about HR, but about the business. This logic has been in place for many years. But, there are disruptors or evolutions that are occurring. Disruption is not a noun with an end state, but a verb where the process of evolving HR continues. HR disruption is less about a shift leaving behind one idea for another (e.g., moving from operational to strategic) and more about a pivot of ideas building on each other (e.g., being operational and also strategic). The disruptive pivots in HR have been going on for decades and will inevitably continue.
- Value added of HR: from the outside in. HR does not just serve employees or the organization, but the customers and investors outside of the organization (see book Leadership Capital Index); HR responds to external conditions that create opportunities and challenges for change, not merely respond to strategy
- Outcomes of HR: toward organization. We found in Victory through Organization that the quality of the organization (capabilities, culture, workplace) has 4 times the impact on business results that the quality of the individuals (competencies, talent, workforce).
- Talent outcome disruptions: towards well being. We see employee meaning, well being, and experience ever more central to managing talent (see book Why of Work).
- Organization outcome disruptions: towards capability. Building a better organization is less about structure, roles, processes, or alignment, and more about building the right capabilities (what we are known for and good at doing).
- Leader outcome disruptions: towards leadership, navigating paradox, and brand. There are three disruptions in leadership. First, there is a pivot from the individual leader to the collective leadership team. Leaders matters, but leadership matters more. HR should not just be about helping individuals become better leaders, but building collective leadership depth throughout the organization. Second, there is a disruption about the primary factor that will ensure leadership effectiveness. In recent years, leaders have been encouraged to have emotional intelligence, then learning agility (or grit, resilience, perseverance). In our research, navigating paradox has become the next wave in the evolution of leadership effectiveness. Finally, effective leadership is defined when leader’s competencies reflect promises to customers and investors (see book Leadership Brand).
I could go on about disruptions in HR analytics, governance, competencies, and so forth, but hope this captures the ideas.
Peter: What will be the main focus/topics of HR Management in 10 years?
Dave: Covered above
Peter: Now my final question 5+1 (for advice for my alumni and students): What would you advise young HR Managers or students who seek a career in Human Resources? What should they pay attention to? What is and what will be important?
Dave: I would have 5 lessons for new HR entrants (or other aspiring professions in HR). First, recognize your passions by knowing your strengths, values, and problems you want to solve. Second, get real by being brutally honest about what you can and can not readily do and/or learn to do (I could probably not do ballet or music no matter how hard I try). Third, match your skills to your organization by finding an organization where your passions and the company purpose overlap. Fourth, get started with small and simple successes by not waiting to be told what to do or deliver, but by doing it, quietly and simply, and others will notice. Finally, build relationships by making and responding to bids. It is a GREAT time to be in HR. See my linkedin article on this topic (and others).
Peter: Thank you very much for your contribution. I wish you continued success, many friendly clients and many HR change ideas at all times.