Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Ulrich’s new dawn for HR 11/09/2012
As economic conditions change, HR’s ability to deliver value must also change, states Dave Ulrich. He talks exclusively to Natalie Cooper about how HR needs to add value to employees, customers, investors and communities as well as solutions for leading your people to a new dawn.
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- Pressures & challenges
- HR to drive business results
- Employee engagement
- Delivering meaning
- HR governance model
- 3 ways to impress the board
Pressures & challenges
Q. What pressures and challenges are today’s leaders under?
A. Business conditions are driving dramatic global change. We classify change into six factors (called STEPED). Social changes mean that urbanization, family patterns, and lifestyle choices are evolving. Technology makes information accessible, timely, and relevant. Economic changes mean that business cycles move quickly. Political changes refer to regulation and general political trends. Environmental responsibility has shaped how people feel responsibility to each other and to the planet. Demographic changes refers to age, gender, education, expectations, and globalization of talent. Leaders who anticipate and adapt to these changes build competitive and sustainable organizations.
HR to drive business results
Q. How can HR drive business results?
A. HR delivers value in three areas: talent, organization, and leadership. In our 2012 research with over 20,000 HR and non-HR professionals from all over the world, we found six critical competencies for HR professionals to be personally effective and to drive business results. By mastering the below six competencies, HR professionals create value from the outside in.
1. Strategic positioner: High performing HR professionals understand the global business context including social, political, economic, environmental, technological and demographic trends and translate these trends into business implications. They understand the structure and logic of their respective industries and the underlying competitive dynamics of the markets that they serve including customer, competitor and supplier trends. They then apply this knowledge in developing a personal vision for the future of the company. They participate in developing customer focused business strategies and in translating the business strategy into annual business plans and goals.
2. Credible activist: HR professionals do what they say will do. Such results-based integrity serves as the foundation of personal trust that, in turn, translates into professional credibility. They have effective interpersonal skills, are flexible in developing 'positive chemistry' with key stakeholders and can translate this positive chemistry into influence that contributes to business results. A major way through which such influence is established is through consistent, clear and insightful verbal and non-verbal communications. They also have confidence in their opinions about the business, take strong positions about business issues that are grounded in sound data and thoughtful opinions and are not only activists for the business; they are also advocates for the importance of HR in driving business results.
3. Capability builder: An effective HR professional creates, audits and orchestrates an effective and strong organization by helping to define and build its organization capabilities. Capability represents what the organization is good at and known for. These capabilities outlast the behavior or performance of any individual manager or system. Capabilities have frequently been referred to as a company’s culture. Such capabilities might include innovation, speed, customer focus, efficiency and the creation of meaning and purpose at work. HR professionals can help line managers create meaning so that the capability of the organization reflects the deeper values of the employees.
4. Change champion: Effective HR professionals develop their organizations’ capacity for change and then translate that capacity into effective change processes and structures. They ensure that the capacity for change on the inside is equal to or greater than the rate of change on the outside. They ensure a seamless integration of change processes at the institutional, initiative and individual levels. They build the case for change based on market and business reality; overcome resistance to change by engaging key stakeholders in making key decisions and building their commitment to full implementation. They sustain change by ensuring the availability of necessary resources including time, people, capital and information and by capturing the lessons of success and learnings from failure.
5. Human resource innovator and integrator: A major competency of effective HR professionals is their ability to integrate HR practices around a few but critical business issues. The challenge is to make the HR whole more effective than the sum of the HR parts. Occasionally sub-processes within HR departments fail to be unified with different HR processes going different directions. The result is conceptual and process inconsistency. Mixed messages are sent and performance is suboptimized. On the other hand, high performing HR professionals ensure that desired business results are clearly and precisely prioritized, that the necessary organization capabilities are powerfully conceptualized and operationalized, and that the appropriate HR practices, processes, structures and procedures are jointly aligned to create and sustain the identified organizational capabilities. They help the collective HR practices to reach the 'tipping point' of impact on business results.
6. Technology proponent: Technology and information is changing dramatically. For many years, HR professionals have applied technology to the basic HR work. HR information systems have been applied to enhance the efficiency of HR processes including benefits, payroll processing, healthcare costs, recording keeping and other administrative services. High performing HR professionals are now involved in two additional categories of technological applications. First, HR professionals are applying social networking technology to help people stay connected with each other. They help guide the connectedness of people within the firm and the connectedness between people outside firms (especially customers) with employees inside the firm. Second, is the management of information. This includes identifying the information that should receive focus, bundling that information into useable knowledge, leveraging that knowledge into key decisions, and then ensuring that these decision are clearly communicated and acted upon. This is an emerging strategic competency through which HR will add substantive value to their organizations.
Q. How can leaders help employees to become engaged at work?
A. Most people want to find meaning and purpose in their lives. This meaning often comes from experiences with family, social and friendship groups, religious values and settings, hobbies, and personal growth. Work is one of the dominant parts of most people’s lives. Sometimes leaders become instrumental in merely looking at short-term results or performance and miss the heart of what engages employees.
The best companies and leaders have learned that creating meaning makes money. When leaders create meaning, they not only capture the heart of employees, but their mind (how they think) and feet (how they act).
Q. How can HR drive engagement by helping employees to find meaning?
A. In our ‘Why of Work’ book we identified seven factors to create meaning:
1. Identity: help employees use their strength to serve others
2. Purpose: help employees find a purpose in their work
3. Relationships: help employees build personal relationships with work colleagues
4. Work environment: create a positive work environment for employees
5. Work itself: give employees a job that engages them
6. Learn and growth: help employees learn and grow from their work
7. Delight: help employees have fun at work
HR governance model
Let me explain this model in the figure: HR governance model.
The HR governance model we produce does not need to restrain careers. Our model of an HR career is seen in the following graphic which lays out what an HR career can look like.
1. Where you work: HR professionals have a choice of working in a specialist assignment (e.g., compensation, talent, training), in a geography (home country), business unit (plant, division, corporate), or outside HR (line management, consulting)
2. What work you do? HR professionals can do work in three stages: 1. individual contributor, 2. integrator/manager, or 3. leader.
With these two dimensions, HR professionals can make informed career choices.
• Option 1: (arrow) someone chooses to stay in a speciality role their entire career; someone starts at stage 1, then 2, then 3 and they become a deep expert
• Option 2: someone may choose to be in a geography their entire career
• Option 3: someone may move across the roles and duties as they move up the company. We find that the CHRO (chief human resources officer) jobs are most likely to be filled by people who have the largest footprint on the grid. They have worked in specialist, geography (outside home country), outside HR, and business roles in increasingly responsible positions. The larger the footprint, the more likely they will be prepared for CHRO.
The three box model has no constraints about HR careers. Generalists can move into specialist positions. There is nothing holding that back. If someone choses to be a deep specialist, they should have that choice. If someone wants to move between generalist, specialist, geography, and outside HR, they are more than able to do so. There are not logical constraints to this happening using this model.
3 ways to impress the board
3 ways to impress the board & steer the business forward
1. Find ways to use your strengths to strengthen others. Do not just focus on what you do well, but on how what you do well will create value for others (e.g., employees, customers, investors). For example, when hiring, make sure that the people you hire are consistent with customer and investor expectations.
2. Develop a point of view about the business. Learn the context in which business operates, then discover the talent, organization, and leadership requirements to accomplish the business goals. Ground all HR conversations in business realities. Master financial information and read it regularly. Know the strategic planning reports that are prepared. Review customer information.
3. Turn individual (talent) efforts into organization (culture) patterns and identities. Don’t just work with people, but recognize the teamwork and processes that shape organizations. Do organization audits as often as talent audits; work on culture and teams as much as individual performance.
Dave Ulrich, professor, Ross School of Business
Dave studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, speed, learning, accountability, and talent through leveraging human resources.