Article: 10 Lessons for a successful and future-ready HR

Strategic HR

10 Lessons for a successful and future-ready HR

Speaking at the recently concluded Tech HR Singapore 2022, Dave Ulrich, Professor and a partner at The RBL Group, shared ten insightful lessons that provide HR with the necessary perspective to deal with the future.
10 Lessons for a successful and future-ready HR

In a period marked by rapid changes, HR has a significant role in ensuring companies can find, hire, engage and retain the right people. The growing importance of having the right people in the right place at a company has made HR a critical business driver. But with a near-constant nature of business disruption and evolving employee preferences, how can HR better create the correct value for its companies and shareholders? 

To tackle this question and share his experience, Dave Ulrich, Professor at the University of Michigan and Partner and RBL Group, shared ten lessons he thought people across the HR landscape need to reflect on. Speaking at the Closing Mega Keynote, Dave explored the following:

Context is the kingdom. Content is king.

According to Dave, the uncertainty and disruptions present in today's business world form the context or the 'kingdom' in which companies operate. The' king' is how we respond, and the content HR creates to overcome this context. "Our job in HR is to create the content. The context that's the kingdom content is how we respond. That's the king or the queen. Think outside on how to create the right content given the context," explained Dave.

HR is not about HR. HR is about creating value in the marketplace.

Alluding to other speakers at Tech HR Singapore 2022 who shared a similar perspective, for Dave," HR is not about HR. HR is about creating value in the marketplace." 

Explaining how the role of HR directly impacts businesses, Dave explained that HR efforts would have a clear goal. "If we do not succeed in the marketplace, there is no workplace," he added. For the seasoned professor, HR was about creating success in the marketplace, and that sole intent should drive its efforts. Dave also highlighted the importance of looking at HR through this lens. 

Noting how "a few years ago when employee experience became a hot topic. I looked at the books and the articles, and everybody was excited about the employee experience. But unfortunately, nobody was connecting employee experience with customer experience. If you don't have a marketplace with customers and investors, you don't have a workplace."  

Linking it to the company's values, for example, Dave noted that "it's important to understand if those values do not create value for our customer, they're not very efficacious. They're not helpful." Creating value for the customer in the marketplace should drive HR interventions. 

HR creates value by bettering human capability. 

Dave identified the importance of building and cultivating human capability as the most crucial aspect of a successful HR function. "And the underlying word there is human capability," Dave said, adding, "that's the next phase of HR."

It is important to Dave that HR can unpack how it creates value in an uncertain world. For him, "HR contributes talent, leadership and organisation. That's what we contribute to this new world." But how does this translate into the world of work?

"When my business leaders are talking about innovation. My business leaders are talking about technology disruption; my business leaders are talking about strategic change. This is where HR steps in and contributes to that discussion. Do we have the right people with the right skills? Do we have the right organisation with the right culture? And do we have the right leadership?" Dave explained. By finding answers to these questions, HR creates values. "It's crucial that when we sit with our senior leaders, we assess if we have the right people, values, and leaders to create business value in the marketplace.

Our people are our customers' most important asset. 

Dave turned the famous HR dictum of 'our people are our best assets on its head to reflect business reality. He says, "Your people are your customers' best assets." To build further, Dave explained how this translates into the functioning of modern-day HR. "Are we hiring, training, paying our people so that customers will have a better experience?" he noted, boiling the lesson down into a critical question while looking at better ways of creating value in the marketplace. 

"Are our training and staffing programs involving our customers and our investors? How many people attend from outside your company? Customers, investors, community leaders and partners should be a part of skill building and training," he added. Looking at hiring next, he added, "if we aren't hiring people our customers are delighted with, we're hiring the wrong people." Then, asking the audience at Tech HR 2022 Singapore, Dave posed a big question to top HR leaders across APAC on how involved their other stakeholders are when hiring. "Have we involved customers and investors in defining the skills they want to see in our employees? 

Do we include them in the interviews and training process?" he said, imploring HR leaders across the board to rethink the role of their stakeholders. 

Culture is not your values. 

Speaking on culture, Dave explained how organisations' culture wasn't the set of values they followed. Rather, culture, according to him, was the result of the impact their values created in the marketplace. "HR often spends a lot of time deliberating on how we want to build the right culture, the right organisation, the right fit, what are my values? No. Culture is how your values create value for your customer," he explained. 

For Dave, culture was not the tree's roots but rather its leaves. 'Culture is what I want to be known for," he added, explaining how "if a company's external identity is not their culture, then we're schizophrenic. We're promising the customers A, B and C, and we're training and doing a culture of D, E and F. If you're trying to build the right organisational culture, go to Marketing. What are we trying to be known for in our social media and advertising? Culture starts outside in what we're known for in the marketplace."

The job of a leader is to make others feel better about themselves.

"How do we as HR people coach our leaders so that they walk away from interacting with you feeling better or worse about themselves?" For Dave, this was the central tenet that anchored good, impactful leaders. 

"The role of HR here is to help our leaders lead by making others feel better," he said. Sharing an example, he elaborated the point further. "I'm coaching a leader of a big global company,' he said, "an adamant company. I won't name the company; an employee made a horrible mistake. Going to cost the company a lot of money. This leader said I'm going to hold that employee accountable. You made a horrible mistake. It's going to cost us a lot of money, and if you do it again, you will be fired." Turning to the audience, Dave asked, "will that employee feel better about themselves?" 

"So I told the person I was coaching, let me change three sentences. Number one, I care about you. Number two, you have a great future at this company. You made a huge mistake. 

It's going to cost us a lot of money. Then number three, let's learn from the mistake so that you can improve," he concluded, stating that this is a core ability of great leaders. However, making others feel better for Dave doesn't mean leaders walk away from leadership challenges and hold people accountable. 

The key to a successful HR department is the relationship we have with each other. 

Connections and relationships that HR shared with others were another critical consideration for Dave when it came to creating value for customers. Citing recent research, he added how the "key to a great HR department based on our research is not your structure. It's not your role clarity. It's the relationships you have with each other." So to make HR impactful, it's essential to find answers to important questions. "Questions like are we in HR forging those relationships? 

Are we listening to each other? Are we ensuring we have a common purpose? Are we expressing what's right and what's wrong? Are we building relationships within the department? Dave explained that "we need to build relationships with our business leaders, our employees, and our customers and investors. The key to a great HR department is not the structure. It's the relationships. It's not role clarity. It's the relationships." 

The competencies of HR are verbs, not nouns. 

For Dave, HR competencies like business partners, change agents, cultural stewards, employee champions, etc., are verbs and not nouns. "Verbs are not the role we play, but the actions we take," explained Dave. This shift entails taking an active approach toward defining HR competencies. 

The next question Dave tackles is, "what then are the verbs of great HR?" His answers lay in the work that HR can do to accelerate business. Without focusing on old ways of defining competencies, Dave is more interested in defining competencies with work done to accelerate business results and create better customer value. "I don't care where you work in HR," explained Dave, "you can be a comp specialist, a talent specialist, a training specialist, a service centre person. The important question is, do you accelerate business results? Do you help your company succeed in the marketplace?"

Shifting to verbs helps HR look at their work afresh. A more action-oriented approach, Dave refers to how this can help HR look for new solutions and advance human capability better. Verbs-based competencies for Dave include simplifying complexity, building capabilities, fostering relationships, mobilising information and taking better talent decisions.  

Technology enables digital information. 

Looking at technology as a way that collects and share digital information is essential for Dave. "AI is digital information online avatars, digital information. Technology is a source of digital information to inform choice," he said. By looking at technology through this lens, HR can better understand its role in improving organisational performance and productivity in the marketplace. 

Citing Disney World's example, Dave noted how visitors there have a band on their wrists that collect digital information and help with decision making. "They know what time you leave the room. They know where you shop. They know the food you eat; they know the clothes you buy," he said. Likewise, digital information on talent helps leadership to make better decisions. And technologies will change how we do it in a very positive way. 

"In HR we use technology to facilitate business transformation and use technology to build capabilities and make better decisions," Dave added.   

The best is yet ahead. 

"Now is the time for HR," was Dave's final lesson in the closing Keynote of Tech HR Singapore 2022. Alluding to the theme of Tech HR Singapore 2022: fresh eyes, Dave explained how important it is for HR today to relook at existing processes and build newer, more effective ways of creating value. 

"The best is yet ahead for companies to do above nine things and maybe add their own 10th or 11th lesson. We as HR are here to serve our people better, our customers better," said Dave as he ended his discussion. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, Training & Development, #TechHRSG

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