'Organisations need to be competitive to succeed'
Prof. Dave Ulrich an influential international thinker in HR and
author of over 25 books talks about his proposed visit to Colombo on
April 30 and the topics he will address in Colombo.
Prof. Dave Ulrich was interviewed by Dinesh Weerakkody
Prof. Dave Ulrich
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: Dave you are due in Colombo on April 30 for 12 hours to
address the HR community in the morning and the CEOs in the evening?
What are the topics you plan to address?
A: Organisations today compete not just by having financial,
strategy, and operational abilities, but by building competitive
abilities. These abilities come from talent, leadership and culture.
Business leaders are ultimately responsible for managing these
abilities, and HR professionals should be thought partners to make this
I will review the ideas and specific tools for building strong
organisations as CEOs, business leaders, and HR professionals.
Q: Sri Lanka envisages the creation of a knowledge hub to
attract and retain the best and the brightest talent in the region and
to attract FDI. Could you share some experiences based on your recent
work in Singapore?
A: A country wins in the global FDI marketplace by having a
focus, or uniqueness, just like a company in the consumer marketplace.
For example, Ireland focuses on manufacturing and operations, Dubai on
tourism and financial services, Switzerland on pharmaceuticals and
Singapore on human capital insight.
The Singapore government, industry, academia, and labour, pooled
resources to create a human capital leadership institute that would
provide knowledge about talent and leadership to the region.
Q: You have had exposure to M and A in the US , what are some
of the Business challenges surrounding M and A's?
A: In the past most M and A's failed because culture was not
taken into account and 30 to 40% of M and A's reached their expected
cost of capital. When culture is taken into account before the M and A,
success rates get into the 50% range.
These cultural audits look at the cultures of each of the merged
companies and try to reconcile them. But to get to the 60 to 70% range,
leaders need a new definition of culture.
Instead of looking at culture as values, norms, expectations inside a
company, they should start the dialogue on culture from the outside.
What do we want the new firm (post M and A) to be known for by those who
will use its services? This new culture based on the resources of the
newly merged companies then endures because it is tied to and drives
Q: The HR profession for many years has focused on the
internal customer rather than delivering value to the external customer.
Has this changed?
A: HR roles and expectations are changing. In recent years, HR
has connected with business strategy. Strategy was a mirror which
reflected what HR professionals should know and do. But the mirror
focused inside the company, not outside.
Now, instead of a mirror, HR sees a window to the outside world and
anticipates that world so that the organisation can respond.
Instead of being 'employer of choice' HR needs to be 'employer of
choice of employees and customers'. An external perspective means that
HR understands not only general business conditions (social,
technological, political, economic, demographic trends) but also
expectations of external stakeholders (customers, investors, communities
Turning these external expectations into internal actions brings
sustained value to a company.
Q: Talking of talent, what are leading global companies doing
to tap distinctive talent contributions and deploy talent more
effectively to create lasting value?
A: Instead of starting with key people, big companies are
starting with needs of key positions. Once position needs are defined
through an outside perspective, key people can be matched through
staffing, training, or development.
In addition, organisations are looking for people who are fully
engaged, not just by their behaviour but by their hearts and minds. This
work is in our book The Why of Work.
Q: How can organisational culture play a vital role in shaping
talent and also manage the identity of the organisation in the mind of
their key stakeholders?
A: Culture has often been thought of as norms, values,
expectations, and behaviour of employees in an organisation. We like to
think of defining culture (and leadership) through external
expectations. What does a company want to be 'known for' by customers,
investors, and others? How does this external identity (or firm brand)
become woven into the organisation. When this happens, the culture is
not just a value set, but an incredibly valuable value set because
customers will pay a premium for it.
Q: What will the HR profession look like in five years and
what are your predictions regarding the future of HR in a Business?
A: A discussion of the future of HR does not start with the
function of HR, but with the needs of businesses. Increasingly,
businesses succeed or fail based less on access to capital, unique
strategies, or operational excellence, but on how to create
organisational abilities that enable these business outcomes to occur.
HR becomes the architect and anthropologist to identify and create
these abilities. This shifts HR from an administrative function to a
thought partner function.