Q & A with Professor Dave Ulrich – January 2014
Nicola Tyler, CEO of Business Results Group asks Dave Ulrich how South African HR professionals should respond to the challenges of industrial action and widespread retrenchment.
NT: SA continues to face the triple challenge of chronic high unemployment, poverty and inequality. One of the biggest challenges facing HR professionals in South Africa has been large scale industrial action and resultant widespread retrenchment. What is your advice to HR professionals faced with these challenges?
DU: The challenges of unemployment, poverty, and inequality are complex and long term. They will not have easy solutions, or they would have been done. Industrial actions where employee’s anger results in unionization efforts is clearly understandable; then so is management’s reaction to squelch the employee reaction. This leads to a vicious circle of employee vs. management action and reaction, then government gets involved as an arbitrator which sometimes only complicates the vicious circle.
Naively and ideally, the solutions to long term problems require a shift in mindset from individual to collective action. Labour, management, government, and academia need to find ways to cooperate to build both an overall economy and organizations that win. A rising economic tide will help both individual employees and organization managers succeed. This requires a spirit of cooperation where both sides focus on solving shared problems more than receiving short term gains. Mandela’s brilliant life and message of personal forgiveness needs to be translated to a country wide message of cooperation. Cooperation comes when each party looks beyond short term self-interest to longer term shared interest and is willing to sacrifice some in the short term to create a long term gain. This is not easy.
Such cooperation may begin within teams and divisions of large companies where HR professionals can be the facilitators between employees and managers to find common ground. When HR knows the longer term business goals, customer requirements, and business strategy, they can help each group see that their long term shared interest are more important than short term self-interest.
In particular, when HR sits in on management meetings, they should make sure that the employee voice and point of view is shared and heard. When HR visits with employees, they should ensure that management’s perspective is understood. As a credible activist, HR professionals earn credibility with both employees and management by finding common ground and working together to make progress.
HR professionals can become the architect of talent, leadership, and culture that may help one leader at a time, one team at a time, one department at a time, and one organization at a time. By so doing, HR professionals eventually build a groundswell of support for innovative ideas and practices.
Business Results Group and GIBS will be bringing Dave to South Africa to present his 13 milestones for HR to transcend the way the deliver measurable value to their organisations. In JHB on 27 May and Cape Town on 28 May. For further information visit www.theprogressconference.com.
Professor Dave Ulrich
Dave has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200. His honours exude a consistent track record of global influence and authority in human resources and business management. His research is based on collective feedback from over 60 000 line managers and HR professionals on the competencies required to improved business performance.
An accomplished and celebrated educator Dave is sought after the world over to present his findings and educate businesses. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 25 books which he has co-authored with numerous fellow thought leaders.