24 Jul Dave Ulrich on the Future of Human Resources
Today, I spoke to Dave Ulrich, who is a Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, a partner at the RBL Group, and Executive Director of the RBL Institute. His latest book is called HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources. He studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, speed, learning, accountability, and talent through leveraging human resources. He has helped generate award winning data bases that assess alignment between strategies, organization capabilities, HR practices, HR competencies, and customer and investor results. In total, he has published over 200 articles and book chapters and 23 books. In this interview, David talks about the most common HR issues that he’s seen, the most important HR competencies that need to be developed, and the future of HR.
What are the most common HR issues you’ve been seeing in the past few years?
Business leaders increasingly realize that to adapt to changing business conditions and customer/investor/community expectations, they have to do more that articulate a future direction or strategy. They have to make sure that where they say they are going actually happens. HR professionals help turn aspirations into actions by focusing on three things:  talent: do we have the competence (skills and abilities), commitment (willingness to engage and work hard), and contribution (ability to find meaning from the work we do) of our people,  culture: do we have the right organization capabilities that enable us to shape an identity outside and pattern of behavior inside the company, and  leadership: do we have a depth of leadership throughout the company who are focused on the right things. HR professionals should be architects of talent, culture, and leadership as they help line managers deliver what they promise.
Which HR competencies are more important now than they were before?
We have spent 25 years studying the competencies of HR professionals. In that time, we have data from over 60,000 HR professionals and line managers about what HR competencies will increase personal reputation and business performance. In our most recent round of global research, we found that HR professionals are more personally credible when they are credible activists who build relationships of trust with business leaders and who take positions about how business can be more successful. We also found that HR professionals drive business performance when they are HR innovators and integrators, capability builders, and technology proponents. We can say with assurance what HR professionals around the world, in many industry types, and at all levels should know and do to increase personal reputation and business performance.
Why did you name your book “HR from the Outside In”?
For the last 20 years, we have been enamored with “strategic” HR where the strategy is a mirror that reflects what HR should focus on. We now believe that HR should look through the strategy to the outside world. Strategy becomes a window on both the general business conditions and on specific stakeholder expectations so that HR can connect their work to external factors. This shifts an HR focus from inside a company (employer of choice) to outside the company (employer of choice of employees customers would choose). All HR work (training, staffing, compensation, communication, organization design, etc.) can be done through an external lens. We have also connected HR work on talent, organization, and leadership to investor expectations.
What is your prediction for the future of HR?
I am an optimist about the value of HR because HR helps talent, organization, and leadership deliver value to key stakeholders both inside and outside the company. This raises the bar on HR, but the best HR professionals who recognize, master, and deliver the competencies we have identified will deliver more value.
Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and founder of Millennial Branding. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0 and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.