HR hopes for 2014

Dave Ulrich


Which of your three children do you love the most or your six grandchildren?  I was recently asked this by a sincere, but oblivious person we met.  I love all my children and grandchildren equally.  Likewise, it is nearly impossible to say “which of your themes for HR 2014 is THE most important?”   I think many of the ideas are relevant, so I will offer a menu of HR hopes for 2014.
  •  HR outside in.  Most HR work still focuses inside the company on employees, leaders, or HR practices.  When the work of HR starts with customers, investors, and communities, it focuses on the value HR can create over time.  Strategic HR still often uses strategy as a mirror to which HR must respond, while outside in uses strategy as a window to external business conditions and key stakeholders to which HR must respond.  HR responds to outside in pressures by making changes in talent, leadership, and capability.
  • Talent.  In the last 20 years, we have learned to help employees become more competent with innovations in training, then we focused on behavioral engagement.  Now, I hope we are focused on emotional engagement where employees find a sense of meaning and purpose from the work they do.  Creating meaning from work comes when employees’ personal strengths and values are used to help and serve others.  Building on your strengths so that they will strengthen others goes beyond a narcissistic view of personal growth.  Meaning is less about one’s personal values and more about how those values create value for others.
  • Leadership.  We often celebrate great leaders whose charisma and stature charms and motives us.  But great leaders go away and have to be replaced by other leaders.  Focusing on individual leaders should shift to collective leadership where leaders at all levels of an organization do the right things in the right way.  This means that individual leaders will be more accountable for developing other leaders than merely getting their way or getting things right.  Good parents want their children to be better than them.  The same with leaders who want the next generation leadership to be better.  And, to be better requires focusing more on external conditions than internal history.  These external conditions might include general social, technical, economic, political, environmental, and demographic trends as well as expectations of specific stakeholders (e.g., customers, investors, and communities).  When leaders turn external expectations of a firm into internal leadership actions and organization practices, they create a leadership brand.  We found in our research among SME’s in Asia (Talent Accelerator) that leaders who attend the leadership have high impact.
  • Capability.  An organization’s capability represents what it is known for, and good at, both inside and outside the company.  A firm’s brand becomes its culture when external expectations turn into internal actions.  A litany of capabilities have been popular over the decades (quality and its derivatives, service and customer connection, innovation, efficiency).  In 2014 and beyond, I envision a few emerging capabilities that HR professionals should architect for their firms.  Simplicity has become important as the world becomes more complex.  Sometimes HR practices like performance management are avoided because they are too complex or process driven.  Terms like essence, minimalist, streamlined, focused are the themes of simplicity.  Information captures a wide range of current fads:  cloud, data, analytics, workforce planning, metrics, scorecard, and so forth.  Behind each of these HR fads is the fundamental capability of information.  As a capability, information is less about data and more about decision making; less about information and more about insight and impact.  HR needs to be very clear about what choices can be made to help an organization win through talent, leadership, and culture, then define choices and collect data to make informed choices.  Collaboration includes teamwork and working across boundaries inside the organization and forming partnerships outside the organization.   HR professionals need to model, learn, and teach principles of simplicity, information, and collaboration.

There it is … a few ideas on a menu for 2014.  Hard to say which one menu item matters most since all are important for HR to fully deliver value.

Written by Professor Dave Ulrich, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, the RBL Group