How Do You Create Business Value?

By Adam Rampton

In the past three months, I’ve been to China twice, each time working with different Fortune Global 500 companies that are all wrestling with the same challenges: changing market conditions, accelerating competition, and the tensions inherent in trying to maintain local connectedness while ensuring global reach.

In a world of increasing volatility and change, more organisational agility is needed. This puts tremendous pressure on HR leaders and professionals who want to create business value – they are increasingly asked to maximise ideas and outcomes that are inherently in opposition to each other.

Some examples that HR leaders and professionals must effectively tackle include the following:

  • Achieving short-term results and long-term growth
  • Improving customer service with reduced budgets
  • Building collaborative teams and having individual accountability
  • Increasing speed to market and quality
  • Enhancing local relevance/connectedness and driving global brand unity
  • Doing more with less

The CHROs and HR leaders at the multinational corporations operating in China that I work with recognise that their HR professionals and business partners need help navigating these paradoxes and managing these tensions effectively. A new mindset and skillset is needed. The changing business environment requires it and demand is high. These CHROs are working to build the supply side so that HR is better positioned to create real business impact now.

In the seventh round of our global HR Competency Study (HRCS), two new interesting themes emerged:

  1. HR professionals who ‘navigate paradox’ have the highest impact on business results.
  2. Navigating paradox is not done well by HR.

Effective paradox navigators tackle conflict head-on and help their business leaders do the same. They shift from the traditional mindset of ‘either/or’ logic to one of ‘and/also’. These professionals focus on managing tensions that will unleash creativity and new insights.

Seem impossible? You’re not alone. To help you get started, here are four simple steps to strengthen your ability to navigate paradox and position your business for success:


Most business strategies fail in implementation because of unresolved paradoxes. Effective HR business partners will recognise these paradoxes and help their business leaders clarify the poles. What do we mean by “do more with less?” What short-term results are most important? How will we measure them? What does long-term growth look like? Where do we need to innovate?  How do we create space for and encourage experimentation?

Average leaders ignore one pole. Poor leaders swing back and forth or demand both. Great leaders see the inherent tension in both poles and bring the right people together to collaboratively clarify and address them.


Once the poles are clarified and we know what we’re trying to achieve, we work through a series of divergent and convergent processes to define the best alternative outcome. A useful tool is illustrated in the matrix below. This matrix helps to further clarify the poles where needed and, more importantly, provides the basis for divergent and convergent discussions to determine how best to move from current state to desired future state.

In this example, the strategy is to ‘achieve 20% EBIT while investing in long-term growth’. For each pole (light blue), the leader and team further clarify the poles by defining degrees of success (dark blue). Next, they identify where they are today and where they want to get in the desired future state (grey blocks). Spending enough time on this step helps the team align to define the best alternative outcome collectively.


The tool outlined in Step 2 helps teams see points of tension and begin unravelling paradox in a productive way. They are able to identify potential trade-offs. Effective leaders help the group converge (focus) using simple questions and then diverge (expand) to consider different options and viewpoints. They strive for integration, avoiding ‘either/or’ answers opting for ‘and/also’ solutions instead.

They ask questions like “where do we agree?” and “where do we disagree?” They listen.

In essence, good leaders and HR business partners lead through a series of divergent and convergent cycles to see other’s point of view and find common ground. This allows the group to align with the best alternative outcome and prepare to take first steps.


Built on the strong foundation created in the first three points above, these first steps should be easy to initiate. Outline specific first steps – things the leaders and teams will do in the next 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months – to demonstrate progress and maintain clarity. Sometimes these first steps will include two steps forward and one step backwards. Be consistent and help your leaders do the same by adjusting operating mechanisms, measures, and incentives to reinforce the desired future state. Take a whole-systems view to enable and sustain the desired change.

Paradox matters. It’s inherent in day-to-day and organisational life. Effective leaders embrace this fact and assemble the right stakeholder team to clarify and address paradox head-on. In HR, paradox navigation skills are the largest predictor of business impact. As HR builds this skillset, it will be better positioned to drive business results by helping leaders clarify the poles of paradox, define the best alternative outcomes, see other’s point of view to find common ground, and take the first steps towards the desired future state.

This article was originally posted on

If you’d like to learn more about preparing HR professionals to navigate paradox, contact us at Business Results Group is the exclusive Africa partner to Dave Ulrich’s RBL consultancy group.


Critical Lessons from Start-Ups for Human Resources

By Darryl Wee

The news is constantly discussing how digital start-up companies are disrupting their industries. Interestingly, when I examine these companies further, I find that many practices which are common among start-ups to drive more value in their businesses that HR should also consider adopting.

Are there lessons that HR can learn from start-up companies?

1. Start by Resolving Pain Points

When I listen to CEOs from successful start-ups describe the ideas behind launching their companies, 95% of the time the business was designed to resolve a real-life problem they faced: a specific pain point.

In HR, we should adopt a similar perspective, by looking at organisational pain points. Notice I refer to organisational pain points, not only HR pain points. HR can create the most value by looking outside of our core function and to the entire organisation.

In order to do this successfully, we must approach the pain point from the perspective of the customer and the business as a whole. We must examine how, as an organisation, we can resolve an issue for the business or customer. The solution may bring us back to some HR policies or practices; however, our analysis should not begin inside the HR function. It is important that we look at the issue strategically and from the outside-in, and not from the inside-out.

I am not suggesting that as HR we should not represent our function, or use our functional expertise to address said issue, but I have found that when HR operates as a business leader rather than just as a functional expert, more value is created. The business as a whole benefit from another pair of eyes, analysing an issue with an external lens. Once we have clarity on the pain point and how we may want to respond, we can then add our HR lens to explore additional solutions.

If we are looking at resolving HR pain points, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our employees and honestly look at what is and is not working. In order to make a real impact, we must minimise our emotional defensiveness from the perceived effectiveness of an HR solution, and really listen to what our customers are telling us.

2. Think Big, Test Small, Learn Fast

After launching their products, start-ups develop, improve, and adapt when necessary. Frequently, after these numerous improvements and tweaks, the original value proposition of their product is significantly different from the end result.

In many larger organisations, there is an expectation that the product be 100% perfect prior to launch.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much we plan, unexpected things can happen that we are not prepared for. While I do believe that we must be very thorough in our work, I also feel that a more agile approach allows us to react more quickly, focus on solutions, and accomplish more optimal results.

The ‘think big, test small’ methodology is being implemented throughout many organisations. I have noticed that even government ministers are using this terminology. I would believe in this concept but take it one step further: ‘learn fast’.

For years, Dave Ulrich has inspired HR and business leaders to ‘think big’. From my perspective, we should always plan our actions in order to have the most significant impact on the entire business. By thinking big, however, we should not be deterred by the size or complexity of the issue or solution at hand. ‘Testing small’ is an excellent means of quickly piloting a solution to ensure its feasibility and scalability. Start-ups constantly send prototypes that are 70-80% finalised for beta testing with the intent of receiving meaningful feedback before the full product launch. The company expects imperfections but is committed to obtaining insights into potential shortfalls and oversights as quickly as possible. This agile approach allows organisations to act swiftly in refining the product before the final launch.

The third element is to ‘learn fast’. Testing small is not effective or useful if we are not learning from customer feedback to adjust our products and solutions accordingly. In some cases, we see companies rapidly realising a more compelling and practical application of a solution or product, so they ‘pivot’ their focus entirely. As HR, we should also learn how to be agile, and pivot to boost our organisation’s value and total impact.

I am sure that there are many additional lessons we can apply; however, in following the theme of this article, I believe that HR can actively help reduce organisational and individual pain points by ‘thinking big, testing small and learning fast. Utilising this methodology, we will increase our impact on the people within our organisation.

This article was originally posted on

Contact us at to equip HR to drive more value in your organisation. Business Results Group is the exclusive African partner to Prof Dave Ulrich’s RBL consultancy group.


10 Skills For Navigating Paradox

by Dave Ulrich

Leaders in HR who navigate paradox had the biggest impact on business results. Paradoxes exist when seemingly contradictory activities operate together. We experience paradoxes in daily life as captured by the popular phrases: tough love, do more with less, oil and vinegar, sweet and sour, work/life balance, Catch 22, go slow to go fast, good and evil, and so forth. When these inherent contradictions work together, success follows. Instead of focusing on either/or; paradoxes emphasise and/also thinking.

Organisations and leaders who respond to the disruptions above do so by navigating paradox. Navigating paradox accepts and heightens disagreements that enable organisations to change and evolve.  Without the tensions that come from paradoxical thinking and debates, organisations perpetuate the status quo and do not respond to change. Leaders of these organisations need to become paradox navigators to help their organisations respond to the pace of change.

HR professionals who are paradox navigators encourage, surface, and raise difficult issues so that they can be resolved. For example, we have found that there are times when a business team should diverge and other times when they should converge. Divergence means that alternatives are explored. When an HR professional is in a meeting where there are few options discussed, that individual should encourage divergence where new alternatives are discussed. On the other extreme, when a group remains divergent, the HR professional needs to create convergence and unity to focus attention. We found in our work that as Paradox Navigators, HR professionals may not be the most popular members of a business team because they raise difficult, but necessary issues. But, their ability to navigate paradox is the most important skill for business results.

How to improve skills to be a paradox navigator

Paradox navigation is not an innate trait, but a learned set of behaviours that translate into skills. Based on our research and experience, leaders who are Paradox Navigators possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities proposed in the table below. When HR professionals recognise, assess themselves, and master these skills, they are more able to drive business success.

Paradox Navigator Skills Table

HR professionals and business leaders can acquire and improve these paradox navigation skills through extensive training, development, and coaching. But, perhaps the most important prerequisite is to recognize the importance of navigating paradox in delivering business results. HR professionals who want to deliver real business value must become paradox navigators.

Read the full article at

Contact us at to your HR team into a core business partner that will drive and achieve strategic organisational results.


Talent VS Organisation

By Professor Dave Ulrich

In today’s rapidly changing business world, the challenge of building the right organisation complements and supersedes the talent challenge.  For the past 15 to 20 years, leaders have been encouraged by remarkable work captured in the “war for talent.” Many have built systems for bringing people into the organisation (sourcing, having a value proposition), moving them through the organisation (development, performance management, engagement), and removing them from the organisation (outsourcing). The war for talent was a great battle, but we now need to turn to victory through organisation.

Talent is not enough. Individuals may be champions, but teams win championships.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Professor Dave Ulrich is an internationally acclaimed best selling author, speaker, researcher and consultant to business leaders and the HR Professeion. He is also ranked as the #1 management guru by Business Week, profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 creative people in business, recognised as a top 5 coach in Forbes and recognised again (for 8 years) in the top 30 business Thinkers50 annual rankings.

Six Keys to Leading Successfully During Transition

By Professor Dave Ulrich, Ross School of Business

The last few months have seen noteworthy CEO appointments in South Africa and the rest of the world.  At home, MTN announced in June that Rob Shuter will replace Sifiso Dabengwa as chief executive in 2017, and in September it was announced that Sisa Ntshona will take over the reins at South African Tourism.  Internationally, Vicki Hollub became the first woman to lead US independent oil giant Occidental Petroleum, a Fortune 500 company, and Edward Bastian stepped into the corner office at Delta Airlines.

Changing a company’s top leadership can raise a lot of questions about its immediate and long-term future, and may even have a material effect on the company’s value and stock pricing. Many, both inside and outside the company, look to the CEO to set the tone in the immediate aftermath of any major change. Here are a few things that any CEO leading a company through a transition should keep in mind:

  1. Be aware of how the departures look to outsiders: Any leader is made stronger by the leaders he or she creates. Leaders should multiply others and make them better, and talk about “we” more than “I.” When an entire team leaves, it may send a signal to investors and others watching that a leader is not empowering his or her leadership team.
  2. Remind people watching, of your track record of leading people to success: An effective leader delivers results and takes personal responsibility for doing so. In high tech firms, there is often “patient” capital that will provide market value far beyond earnings—as seen in companies like Uber and Amazon—but executives need a track record of building market presence and share in clear and measurable ways. At a time when doubt runs high, a CEO should reassure those watching that he or she has a strong action plan and vision.
  3. Position the departures as an opportunity for growth: An effective leader has insight into industry trends and how to position his or her company to win. In fast-moving social media industries, it is critical to continually reinvest and create a future. For example, Google may not succeed in balloons or driverless cars, but its leaders are constantly positioning themselves to be the innovators and leaders of the future. There’s opportunity for the CEO and other company spokespeople to message the departures as a chance to propel the company forward.
  4. Hire the right talent to replace the people who have left: Good leaders surround themselves with better people. The most confident leaders are able to hire and develop very competent teams; the least confident leaders often try to make themselves look better by bringing in people who are not as effective. Whether someone has left or was asked to leave doesn’t matter, as long as the CEO takes this opportunity to replace them with someone even more closely aligned with the company’s goals. This will help propel the company forward.
  5. Stay true to the company’s mission: Effective leaders should turn customer brand promises into leadership actions in order to build trust. Walmart’s leadership team is dedicated to delivering low cost; Disney leaders are dedicated to guest experience. Twitter’s challenge is to create a clear external brand promise to customers and then use that as criteria for its leadership team.
  6. Above all, put the company and its success first: Effective leaders build cultures and HR systems that institutionalize the leadership. When the company becomes more important than the leader, it is more likely to navigate, and even thrive, through a transition.

Leadership transitions happen, especially when a company is entering a new strategic phase, and the current executive team isn’t the right one to get the company to where it needs to be. But all too often, the transition itself focuses too much on the individual people involved and not enough on the requirements and unique needs of the company. By keeping the focus where it always belongs—on how these developments can serve the greater business goals—a CEO can lead his or her company to an even stronger position.

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of Leadership Capital Index. Ulrich is ranked as the #1 management guru by Business Week, has been profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 creative people in business, and listed as a Top 5 Coach in Forbes.  Ulrich was in South Africa last week leading an ongoing series of events on Human Capital, hosted by Business Results Group and the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

What value am I creating for someone else?

By Dave Ulrich.


Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. This simple principle affects professional and personal relationships and impact.

In professional settings, we often judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by our behavior. We intend to be provocative, but we come across as snarky. We intend to challenge, but we come across as contrarian. We intend to be playful or funny, but we may come across as cynical or cryptic. We need to have our “head on a swivel” and think about how our actions and behaviors will create value for someone else. It is like being on a balcony watching our life’s performance.

When we focus on value we create for others, traditional management maxims change. Building on our strengths is not complete unless we build on our strengths that will strengthen others. Leadership authenticity (a highly desired leadership trait) is merely narcissism unless our authenticity helps someone else meet their goals. Some leaders brag about how wealthy they are, but real leaders create wealth for others. When the inevitable crisis occurs, value-based, other-centered leaders start with the impact of the crisis on others and how their response will benefit others; self-oriented leaders start by thinking about themselves and what they can and should do. Leaders with a value focus reflect on whom they serve each day and how their work will make others’ work better.

The sample principle applies in many settings. Good teaching is not what I know, but how what I know helps students better accomplish their goals. Professional training and development is more effective when we focus on learning solutions by helping those who attend better solve their problems rather than giving a stirring lecture or presenting an insightful case. Often training faculty are exceptional performers who present the same material as a lecture or case study over and over again. When focused on value creating, training starts with the challenges participants may have, then seeks solutions to those challenges. When I coach leaders, I teach them that listening is not that they understand, but that the other person feels understood. When I work to upgrade a company’s HR practices, we start with the value these practices will have to company success. HR analytics starts with the business and shows how HR work will show up on the business scorecard, not an HR scorecard. When we work on culture change, we start by defining culture through the eyes of the customer (or other key external stakeholder) and define the value of the values. When I write, I often think about the reader and how the ideas might provide insights with impact to them.

In personal relationships, when I start by thinking about what someone else values, I better relate to and serve them. When I start with what is meaningful to my wife, my gifts add more value to her. When I listen to my friends and children, I show that I care for them and their well being more than for my actions. When I celebrate others’ accomplishments, my success is magnified. Good parenting is not about what parents know and do, but about how parents help children discover their strengths and purposes. When someone might do something that frustrates me, I can pause and see how their behaviors may make sense from their point of view. This “seek first to understand” mantra helps build enduring relationship built on mutual respect.