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Shifting HR’s Focus to Business Value: Lessons from Legend Dave Ulrich

By April 3, 2024No Comments

Shifting HR’s Focus to Business Value: Lessons from Legend Dave Ulrich

Apr 03 ,2024

Discover key strategies to transform HR into a strategic partner with tangible business impact. In this video, we delve into Dave Ulrich’s expert advice on shifting focus outward, linking initiatives to strategy, and integrating technology effectively.

Join Adrian Tan and our esteemed guest, Dave Ulrich, as we dive deep into the world of HR transformation and business value creation. Get ready for insights, strategies, and actionable tips to elevate your HR game!

For over 40 years, Dave Ulrich has been a pioneer in shaping the HR profession. Ulrich’s work has guided HR’s evolution as a professor at the University of Michigan, founding partner at the RBL Group, and prolific author of over 30 books. In a recent podcast interview, Ulrich shared his reflections on the changing business landscape and lessons for transforming how HR creates value. 

With enormous disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, Ulrich noted, “HR is the conversation” as issues around people have come to the fore. However, more is required of HR professionals to demonstrate their impact on what matters most to organisations.

Focusing Outwards, Not Inwards

Ulrich advised HR to focus outward rather than discussing internal topics like culture or skills. He emphasised framing discussions around customer and investor needs. “Start with the business,” Ulrich said. “What do our customers need for us to succeed? What do our investors need for more confidence?” 

This reframing helps position HR not as a cost centre but as a value creator. Ulrich drove this point home with an anecdote about gift-giving. Just as the receiver defines a gift’s value, customers, investors and business leaders ultimately determine HR’s worth. HR must show in clear terms how their work impacts those constituencies.

Linking Initiatives to Strategy and Outcomes 

When discussing challenges, Ulrich suggested adding the phrase “so that…” For culture change initiatives, one could say, “so that we implement our new strategy.” Connecting HR’s work to customer retention or another key performance indicator begins demonstrating tangible value. 

Doing so requires understanding unique organisational contexts, not applying one-size-fits-all approaches. Ulrich pointed out that what benefits one may not work equally for others, just as individualised solutions exist in health and wellness. HR must thus have the judgment to apply insights appropriately for each situation.

The Role of Technologies Like Generative AI

On new technologies, Ulrich saw tools like generative AI as helpful for summarising past knowledge but needed to be improved in predicting futures or customising solutions. While AI can quickly outline skills developed previously, determining which are most relevant going forward still demands human creativity and expertise in contextual application.  

For HR professionals, the lesson is not to fear technology replacing roles but to recognise their disciplines’ ongoing contributions. Advanced analytics, for example, requires comprehending data within its operational setting and thoughtfully communicating insights for decision-makers.

Continuing Transformation for the HR Function

The shifts Ulrich described highlight HR’s evolution remains unfinished. Success lies in acquiring information from various sources like generative AI summaries and understanding unique dynamics within each organisation. 

Most importantly, HR must find clearer language for conveying business value – not just HR issues – to leaders making strategic choices. Ulrich’s guidance provides a path for professionals dedicated to cementing HR as a strategic partner through tangible impacts on outcomes that matter most to customers, investors, and other key stakeholders. His lessons from decades of experience remain relevant for progressing the people-focused discipline.

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Rolling Arrays has been driving SAP SuccessFactors-led HR Transformation since 2009. The company specialises in SF consulting, implementation, and support and also builds applications to enhance the utility of the SuccessFactors platform. It is committed to designing systems that help its customers to attract, develop and retain talented individuals. In 2021, Rolling Arrays was recognized as one of the top 75 fastest-growing companies in Singapore by The Straits Times & Statista.

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