Dave Ulrich, father of modern HR: 2023 reflections & 2024 HR trends

Dave Ulrich, father of modern HR 2023 reflections & 2024 HR trends
HR is not about HR but about creating organizations that succeed in the marketplace. If an organization does not succeed in the marketplace, we have no workplace. So we will probe how HR delivers marketplace value with customers, investors, and communities.

In Conversation With Dave Ulrich Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group on 2023 reflections and 2024 HR trends

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.

The father of Modern HR, Dave has published over 30 books on leadership, organization, and human resources. These ideas have shaped how people and organizations deliver value to customers, investors, and communities. 

He has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200 and worked in over 80 countries.  He has received numerous public recognitions and lifetime awards for his work.

Q- Dave, we are at the end of 2023 and 2024 is just around the corner, If you recap what would be your few previous years’ reflections?

Each year-end brings reflections on the past and expectations about the future.  Sometimes, these reflections are captured in single words. Word of the Year

YearEconomistOxford DictionaryWebsters DictionaryCollins DictionaryMacquire (Australia)
2023chatGPT (generative)RizzAuthenticAICozzie liv
2022HybridGobin mode (self interest)GaslightingPermacrisisTeal
2021Vax (vaccine)VaxVaccineNFTStrollout
2020HybridNo single wordPandemicLockdownDoomscrolling
2019 Climate emergencyTheyClimate strikeCancel culture
2018TariffsToxicJusticeSingle-useMe too

At other times, reflections manifest in themes.

In the past eight months, I have had the incredible privilege of meeting in person with over 8,000 HR and business leaders in Latin America, Saudi Arabia, India, Dubai, Malaysia, China, Europe, and the U.S. Sometimes, we met in large groups (up to 4,000); but often, we were in more intimate settings (25 to 50).

I have done dozens of podcasts and webinars with tens of thousands of participants, and I engaged in weekly posts and daily comments through LinkedIn with followers around the world. In each of these settings, I work to share, learn, and envision the evolving state of our field.

Q- After, meeting with lots of HR and business leaders, and researchers, what do you offer some themes on HR looking back

Based on my travels and other research, I have observed;

1- Now is the time for HR. The words of the year capture today’s social, technological, economic, political, environmental, and demographic trends. Increasingly, people and organization themes are at the forefront of business agendas as evidenced by:

  • Major business conferences (World Economic Forum, Davos; World Business Forum by WOBI; TED; and others) more frequently refer to people, leadership, and organization issues.
  • Government regulators (SEC in the U.S.) now require disclosure of human capital since human capital is material for investor decisions.
  • Intangible value in equity and debt shapes financial decisions, with up to 80 percent of a firm’s market value tied to intangibles and 25 percent of intangibles related to human capability.
  • ESG attention has focused attention not only on “environment” but increasingly on social and governance issues.
  • Boards include more rigorous assessments of human capability as critical to delivering strategy.

Committed HR professionals seek new insights because people and organization issues are part of every stakeholder discussion: employees, business leaders, boards, customers, investors, and communities.

2- Evolving assumptions about the future of work, including:

  • Demonstrating HR impact through analytics. HR is less about doing HR work and more about delivering business results. Analytics reports the impact of overall human capability investments on stakeholder outcomes and also helps prioritize which HR initiatives have the highest opportunity.
  • Organizing isolated HR initiatives into an integrated framework. While we see a host of the latest initiatives (hybrid, skill-based organization, genAI and HR, flexibility/agility, well-being, etc.) that follow a traditional S-curve, these initiatives can be organized into a meta-HR framework (we call human capability).
  • Navigating paradox. Many like to present models of “from . . . to.” I see more evolving models of “and also,” which comes from navigating paradoxes: economic and also social requirements; digital information and also human creativity; short- and also long-term; individual competencies and also organization capability; agility and also stability; statistical data and also observational insights; diversity of opinions and also focus of actions; etc.
  • Finding certainty in uncertainty. Without doubt, uncertainty about the future reigns. Instead of chasing uncertainty, I see an increased focus on certainty, or what the individual or organization values most. Regardless of what happens, we ought to focus on how we want leaders or organizations to respond based on core values and adaptive actions.

3- Commitment and goodness of HR professionals and business leaders who, for the most part, are positive, welcoming, committed to learning, and wanting to make a difference. What a delight to listen to the questions they have about how to make a difference in people’s lives by creating more viable organizations.

These themes will likely continue into 2024 as I experience HR and business leaders recognizing the changing environment and seeking to implement these (and other) future-of-work assumptions.

Q- Envisioning forward, what do you anticipate as HR trends for 2024?

We bring research, observations, LinkedIn comments, and personal engagements into The RBL Institute. In the Institute, we partner with senior HR leaders to pick four think tanks a year where we capture future trends and where we can have dialogues to make progress. In 2024, we will do think tanks on:

  • HR value added outside-in. HR is not about HR but about creating organizations that succeed in the marketplace. If an organization does not succeed in the marketplace, we have no workplace. So we will probe how HR delivers marketplace value with customers, investors, and communities.
  • Transformation. In a VUCA world, agility has become a key capability. We will explore specific skills to enable business, HR, and personal transformation. This will evolve agility from ideas to actions.
  • Digital technology (AI) and HR. AI as a source of information will change how HR work is done. We will discuss how HR professionals can help their organizations enact a digital (AI) strategic agenda. We will also examine how AI advances how HR work is done.
  • Employee expectations. The employee/organization relationship continues to evolve with studies of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, experience, well-being, and personalization. We will consider what’s next in employee work relationship with a focus forward on offering hope.

These are clearly not the only issues for HR in 2024, but though our think tanks, we will offer RBL Institute members thought leadership coupled with specific actions to move ahead. 

Thank You Dave!


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