In Conversation with Dave Ulrich.

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Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the Ross School, University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group (http://www.rbl.net) a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.  He studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, talent, and culture through leveraging human resources. He has helped generate award winning data bases that assess alignment between external business conditions, strategies, organization capabilities, HR practices, HR competencies, and customer and investor results.

Dave has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He edited Human Resource Management 1990-1999, served on editorial board of 4 Journals, on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller, and Board of Trustees at Southern Virginia University, and is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources. He is sharing with us his perspectives on how HR adds value to the business…

Q-Many HR professionals come to know of you through the ‘Dave Ulrich Model’. How did you come up with the model?

Like many others, I have a very good job. For over 3 decades, I have been a professor
at the University of Michigan in the United States where I have been able to visit 100’s of
companies and 1000’s of executives around the world in and out of HR. These individual
visits often result in large research projects where my colleagues and I try to discover
how organizations win through investments in HR. What you call the “Dave Ulrich Model” is not mine at all; it is a distillation of observing and studying 100’s of companies who are working to win in the marketplace through HR.

In the mid 1990’s, we advocated for HR professionals to be “business partners.” The term caught on and HR professionals attempted to play a key role in business success. But,
over the last 20 years, the concept of business partner has evolved.

Q-If you were to develop the model today how different would it be?

In the mid 1990’s, we advocated for HR professionals to be “business partners.” The term caught on and HR professionals attempted to play a key role in business success. But, over the last 20 years, the concept of business partner has evolved. HR business partners in 2018 are NOT the same as those in 1997. Instead of a specific role for HR to add value to a business, we have identified 13 things HR professionals should master following a business partner logic:value added, business context, stakeholders inside and out, talent productivity and well being, organization innovation, leadership throughout, HR strategy, HR governance (including generalists role), integrated and simple HR practices,  competencies for results, analytics and information, digitalization, and works style! Whew, HR business partner logic is much more than a specific role, but a set of insights and disciplines that help organizations and individuals succeed. To see dialogue on these dimensions, please follow me on LinkedIn.

Q-What are the implications of the rapidly evolving field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for HR?

Digitalization of work through AI, robots, machine learning, internet of things, and other digital processes affects HR in four ways. First, it increases efficiency of existing HR practices. For example, external service (or call) centers may be increasingly automated. Second, it enables innovation in all HR practice areas. I get weekly invitations for the latest technology innovations. I believe that the vast majority of HR digitalization are in these two phases today, but we need to move to phase 3 and 4. Phase 3 is HR accessing, analyzing, and applying external information to business results. HR analytics when focused on HR
scorecards is insufficient. HR should use digital tools to bring market, customer, and other information into the company. Finally, phase 4 is using digital platforms to help people connect with each other. Too often technology isolates people (e.g., getting a university degree from one’s department); whereas there is a huge need today to connect to each other.

Digitalization of work through AI, robots, machine learning, internet of things,and other digital processes affects HR in four ways. First, it increases efficiency of existing HR practices. For example, external service (or call) centers may be automated. Second, it enables innovation in all HR practice areas. I get weekly invitations for the latest technology innovations.

Q-Some time ago you had made a counterpoint to Ram Charan’s suggestion that the Head of HR role can be eliminated. What is your current thinking on the matter?

Ram did not suggest doing away with the strategy work of HR. In fact, he argues that a
general manager should surround him or herself with experts in finance and HR to help a business succeed. I agree with him, only I would add experts in customer and information as part of this senior team. Ram argued for splitting the HR department into strategic and administrative work, which I think has already been done in many leading companies. Ram and I would both agree that HR is not about HR, but about helping a business win. Real HR professionals bring insights about talent, leadership, and organization to the business
discussion. The fact that thought leaders like Ram are becoming increasingly interested in HR shows the impact of HR on business results.

Q-Richard Thaler has just won the Economics Nobel Prize for behavioral economics – for the work on the psychological/human perspective in Economics. How can HR leverage the findings in behavioral economics better?

Behavioral economics (see popular book in this area called The Undoing Project by Michael
Lewis) brings scientific rigor to how people make decisions and choices. For example, under the topic of “anomalies”, Thaler and his colleagues found that people do not always “optimize” all decisions, but “satisfice” or take the first minimally acceptable alternative. People are not purely rational, but emotion plays a major part in decision making.  Seemingly irrational economic decisions make more sense when human emotions are involved. HR professionals are often worried about how people discover well being and productivity at the same time. Knowing the logic of behavioral economics helps explore these ideas.

Thank you Dave!

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