Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Dave Ulrich on the Rise of HR

Dave Ulrich is on at AHRI this morning and I met up with him yesterday at an event ran by Halogen where Dave was speaking on his last book, Leadership Sustainability.  Although actually the last book he edited was the Rise of HR, a series of articles by 73 thought leaders.  This post  (still draft, sorry) is a review of that book, which has taken me a little while to get to, but I wanted to post for a couple of reasons.

The Art of HR

The Rise of HR is the first time that Dave has really started to explain his thinking about the art of HR.  If you read yesterday's post on the new HR competencies you'll know this is something I influenced Dave around at last year's Art of HR conference in Croatia which I directed.  Going into this event, Dave was clearly focused on HR as science vs art though did suggest that both are needed, as an aspect of paradox, which I agree with.

Dave developed this slide for us *** which he is now using in many of his presentations around the world, including his explanations around the Rise of HR.  The slide suggests that we need to focus on both puzzle (science) and mystery (art), based on some of Malcolm Gladwell's thinking previously.

"Puzzle solving is about our role as architects, developing frameworks, collecting data, using science and investigating data using analytics."

"Mystery investigation is about our role as anthropologists, undertaking inquiries, trends which are not yet fully understood, using art and asking questions about what's next - questions vs results."

"We're architects but also anthropologists - we seek mysteries, observe, see patterns others don't see and provide unique insights on talent, leadership and culture."

"Figuring out the future of HR and where we can create value isn't science but art.  It's not a puzzle we're trying to solve but a mystery we're trying to investigate."

However artistry isn't something which comes out very powerfully from the book, though there is a surprising amount of focus on music, and in particular the role of the conductor of an orchestra.  This includes and this great piece from Ian Ziskin:

"HR leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to create the future of HR. Think of HR as an orchestra conductor, bringing together a highly diverse set of people and capabilities to harmonize answers to these complex organizational issues.

The symphony orchestra conductor is not an expert at playing the violin, clarinet, flute, trumpet, and timpani. Rather, he or she is adept at finding the very best musicians who are expert at their respective instruments and bringing them together to produce beautiful music. The differentiating leadership role is orchestration, not universal expertise. 

The orchestra conductor metaphor suggests a new role for emerging HR executives. Bring together and partner with experts from a variety of disciplines such as anthropology, communications, finance, law, marketing, project management, statistics, and supply chain management. Reach out beyond the traditional boundaries and comfort zones of HR. Orchestrate integrated solutions to multidisciplinary problems.” 

It's also a shame that the CIPD's Peter Cheese trots out the same old nonsense in his chapter in the book about HR moving from science to art.  No - both are needed, and the rise of HR is primarily about artistry, not science.

HR Leads Business

I got very excited about this strapline, as it suggests a focus on creating value - on developing strategy through and about people rather than just by focusing on the business.  But it turns out that it's a tag for the HRCI which produced the book, not the book itself.

Certainly there's nothing, or next to nothing, in the book about leading business, though Josh Bersin does suggest that our job is no longer to wait for someone to help but rather be a trusted business advisor.

Robert Ployhart got quite close to it, returning to the idea of HR as a conductor:

“HR could own the future of business—but it will take a new kind of HR leader to do it.  A useful analogy of the new HR leader is that of a conductor of a large orchestra (in various ways, this analogy has been used by Frank Barrett, Peter Drucker, Lee Faller, and Karl Weick, among others).  The conductor’s main job is to coordinate the individual elements (musicians, instruments) so that the overall sound is pleasing.  The conductor is not an expert in most of the instruments, but is only generally familiar with them.” 

But there should be much more on this.  This is what HR has to Rise to achieve.  And if I'd managed to contribute a chapter to the book, this is what I'd have written about.

The book is organised into the following sections - context, outcomes, analytics, governance and next steps.


The context for HR is business strategy and Dave suggests this is increasingly about outside in.

A lot of authors refer to VUCA.  Josh Bersin suggests the bar has been raised for everyone in our profession because talent and technologies are now impacting HR meaning that our roles are difficult to fill.  (I think there's much more too it than this.)

There are also a range of ideas about what these changes mean for the activities we perform.  I liked Wayne Cascio’s ideas on environmental scanning, Clarissa Peterson’s on ethics, Charles Tharp on a systematic approach

However it’s probably necessary to pick and choose from this list.  I like Ian Siskin’s suggestion that it’s not going to be possible for HR people to become equally knowledgeable, prepared or able address all the new things confronting us (I think this links to Josh’s overwhelmed employee - and the overwhelmed HR practitioner!)  Therefore we need to choose to lead, follow, or get out of the way - we don’t necessarily need to solve big hairy problem by ourselves, but we do need to ensure they are solved. 


Our outcomes are talent and organisation, and talent optimisation, ie what do we do with individuals identified as talent once we've recruited them?

We know about talent but Dave also emphasises the importance of organisation.  The role of HR is not just to win on talent but also to win on organisation:

"I think we've had for the last 15 years in our field a wonderful and good focus on talent - the war for talent the McKinsey group put out.  Today I think the theme should be victory through organisation.  We don't win through having people, we win through having organisation."

Dave asks what percentage of time the team with the best player on the team wins the World Cup - about 20%.  For every sport it's about 15-20%.  For movies it's the same for the last 20 years the movie of the year has featured the star. Of the year about 20% of the time.  But the interesting thing is that it's featured the best director in the film about 70% of the time.

Why? Because the director is able to ensure the stars are co-operating with each other.  This is why another important outcome is people's relationships with each, social capital, or what Seth Kahan describes as dots and dot connectors and why Hugo Bague reminds us that organisational culture needs to be a group experience.

That’s why I disagree with Josh Bersin's suggestion that compensation doesn’t need to be fair and equal but that some people really do deserve to make 10 times the rewards of others (actually I’ve got no issue with 10 times but the differential is much more than this today and that destroys the social fabric of our organisations.  Similarly I disagree with him that today’s HR professional is more likely to be a talent expert, a technology expert and a consultant - and less likely to be an OD professional.  For me OD is a central piece of what we need to become.

Insights and Analytics

This isn't about data but better decision making, establishing insight about what will happen in the future.

Josh Bersin writes about replacing gut feel with data driven decisions.  Personally I think both are needed, especially as we're talking about artistry (and Josh does suggest that HR is a craft).

HR Brand / Governance

There are two sides to governance - building a new HR function, and ensuring a renaissance for HR - creating a new DNA through HR competencies, business partnering, 2.0, mindset, confidence etc.

On the first of these points, Dave is clearly sick if the ongoing debate about HR structure, even if most people would suggest that he started and has been leading it.  But these days he simplifies the issue as HR needs to follow (or lead?) the business.

So whether HR should be centralised or decentralised depends upon which of these your business is.  If you're centralised like McDonald's you'll need a strong central HR function.  If you're a holding company like Berkshire Hathaway, Virgin or Tata you'll need a largely autonomous HR teams.  In between these, most companies have elements of related diversification and for these you'll need a shared service orhpganisation, maybe consisting of four or five pieces ie centres of expertise, service centres, embedded professionals, operational consultants, a policy group, and increasingly temporary project teams.  Take a look at the way every large consulting firm is organised as an example.

Josh Bersin suggests HR is a steward of people processes.

I like Holly Burkett’s suggestion that HR needs to hire for resilience, create a culture of change readiness and train for and reward change capability

Chee Wei Kwan suggests four roles of trusted advisor, passionate advocate, innovative marketer and astute facilitator.  I like this and this they need to apply everywhere, not just Asia, though I think the roles need to be balanced more towards people rather than just the business.  Eg he suggests that HR needs to speak the language that business appreciates.  Or do we need to change that language?

Dave Ulrich also suggests we need to focus less on roles and more on relationships.  I agree and think there's some good thinking in his review of this.  I love the idea of HR love maps for example.  I just wish Dave would focus on relationships as one of our outcomes too - our relationships with our business clients are absolutely critical, but not as vital to the running of our businesses as the relationships our clients have with each other.

That's the New HR, which I'll be speaking on this afternoon...


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