HR guru/thought leader/influencer Professor Dave Ulrich of the University of Michigan has copped for a bit of a kicking from many in the profession, for this tweet issued at the end of last week.
The most important thing #HR can contribute to employee well-being is a competitive organization that wins in the marketplace. Without winning in the market place, believing, becoming, and belonging become moot. And the failure rate of most organizations remains far too high.
— Dave Ulrich (@dave_ulrich) November 30, 2018
On the face of it, it’s an easy comment to criticise. Apart from the fact that not all organisations are driven by the profit motive, we can all point to companies that are “winning in the marketplace” in part by employment practices that are dodgy if not illegal – Ryanair, Amazon, Deliveroo, Sports Direct etc. It also has echoes of the 1980s attitude of ‘what’s good for the business is good for employees’
But there is an important point hidden in a badly worded tweet. We can have a bigger impact on employee wellbeing by promoting long term job security, decent wages and good working conditions than we can by well meaning but ineffective initiatives. All the “Employee Assistance Programmes” in the world won’t help the staff at House of Fraser. Organisations need to be financially secure and successful (however you define success) to be able to offer these – and HR’s role is to contribute to this, even if it’s not the most exciting or sexy part of our work.
One of the things I often challenge my CIPD students is to justify why they are making recommendations that may cost their organisations a lot of money, if they cannot clearly articulate the benefits of doing so – and that in many cases this justification needs to be quantifiable in financial terms. Too often, we resort to hopeful statements about ill defined outcomes.
Nor is it an either/or position. Contributing to successful organisational outcomes is not at the expense of supporting employee well being. As the new CIPD profession map points out, HR professionals need to be Principles Led and Outcomes Driven. Each is as important as the other.
Maybe Dave did have a point after all?