In (slight) defence of Dave Ulrich

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.

 

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?

HR Theory, HR Practice

As everyone gets ready for the CIPD’s Annual conference in Manchester this week, I thought I’d provide a helpful guide for newer attendees on some of the various  HR terms they may encounter and what they really mean

Best Practice

The Theory:

A series of academic studies which suggests there are universal “best practices” that an HR department should be doing to enhance organisational performance. These practices include rigorous selection procedures, allowing employees to have some form of ownership of the company, and a strong training and development ethos.

The Practice

  1. Taking ideas that appear to have been successful in other organisations and transplanting them into your own
  2. The killer argument when a sceptical CEO or Finance Director questions your new HR initiative – “But it’s best practice!”

The Ulrich Model

The Theory

An academic view, put forward by Professor David Ulrich, that HR has four basic functions in an organisation: Strategic (or Business) Partner, Change Agent, Admin Expert and Employee Champion.

The Practice

The reorganisation of HR departments, mostly by re-designating middle-ranking HR professionals as “HR Business Partners” and creating mindless admin jobs in “Shared Service” call centres (often then outsourced to developing countries).  Usually followed by further reorganisations of HR departments as “That Ulrich model is a load of (insert own term of abuse)”

Big Data

The Theory

Extremely large amount of information (often but not always created online) which is complex to analyse, but by doing so can sometimes lead to more accurate predictions of likely outcomes

The Practice

Introducing new software to churn out employee statistics – such as turnover, applicant tracking or absence, and to give this data red, amber or green “traffic lights”.

Talent Management

The Theory

There’s considerable academic debate about what talent means – whether it relates to an inherent genetic ability to do something or a willingness or commitment to the organisation and the work required. A related but separate debate is how talent management can be aligned to business strategy

The Practice

  1. Pushing up salaries to retain existing staff and to attract staff from competitors (“the war for talent”)
  2. Moaning about the poor standard of candidates when you are recruiting (“there’s a lack of talent in the market place”)
  3. Giving some employees (“the talent”) better training and development opportunities than others

Feel free to add your own in the Comments section below…