Wednesday 12 September 2012

HR from the Inside Out (sorry, ahem, Outside In)

HR-from-the-Outside-In-Ulrich-David-9780071802666.jpg  I'm missing Dave Ulrich in London next week, and also at the Singapore Human Capital Summit I blogged at last year.  But it's not long till I catch up with him at the Middle East HR Summit in Dubai, and I have also been reading his latest book: HR from the Outside In, providing more detail on his newest HR competency framework.

I'm going to be posting on the framework again shortly, but I can't let this Outside In thing go unremarked on (again - since I have remarked in it before).

I just don't see why Ulrich has got so hooked on this.  OK, customer centricity is all the rage these days, but the talent centricity has never been getting so much attention either.  And it's this which needs to be the future of HR for me.

Plus I just don't think Ulrich's analysis works.

He suggests we should do placements, promotion, training, rewards, performance management, leadership, communication and culture development all from an outside in perspective, so selecting the employees our customers would want, involving customers in providing training etc.  Fine, as far as it goes - but the best innovations don't come from customers.  The opportunity for an organisation is to understand customer needs, and then to interpret them - to build, extend or challenge them.  If you simply define your business by what your customers want, you'll never do any better than your smart competitors (because they'll be doing just the same as you).  It's the spin you put on your customers' needs which is important, not just the needs themselves.

Ulrich also ties himself up in knots with his analysis of the six paradoxes facing HR:

Screen Shot 2012 09 12 at 14 10 19

Each of these, other than Outside / Inside apparently, are about HR copes with both ends of each dimension - strategic AND administrative, business AND people etc.  So why outside TO inside?  That's just a choice, not a paradox.  It should be outside AND inside at least (and actually that's all I'm suggesting - I'm not saying don't focus on your customers' needs, just that what's happening inside is at least equally important.)

But the best illustration of why HR's approach should be Inside Out comes from the book's case studies.  BAE Systems, MOL Group, Singapore Housing Development Board and Novartis - they're all great case studies, but the source of energy for each one was internal - not external at all.  Ie the HR teams in these organisations took account of the external environment but what makes them good case studies is the insightful, unique strategy developed by the organisation.  None of them would have been helped by input from an average customer.

I can only think the cases were consultancy projects done by some of Ulrich's team at RBL and he hasn't read them properly!

Anyway, apart from all this, I think it's a good book, and will undoubtedly set the tone for HR's development over the next few years.  So I'm going to come back to it again soon.



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