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Dave Ulrich on where HR can add value

In advance of the PPMA (Public Sector People Managers Association) Conference at the end of April, Municipal Journal published an interview with the keynote speaker Dave Ulrich about the challenges facing the public sector and where HR can add value.

1.  The public sector relies on its employees' passion and desire to make a difference.  How can public sector organisations ensure this passion and desire adds real value to the organisation?

DU: Unleashing or releasing personal passion, where individuals feel they can fully contribute comes when an organisation focuses on what we are calling 'abundance'.  To create the abundant organisation, leaders need to shape an identity, create a purpose, encourage relationships, establish a positive work environment, design challenging work, provide people resources to do the work, learn resilience and find delight.  When these factors occur, abundance exists and people's passions are linked to organisational goals.  (Comment: Creating a culture of abundance in the current climate calls out for visionary leadership in organisations).

2.  In the current climate most organisations have to make major changes.  How do you engage top people to deliver top results when everything they understand and are working towards is changing?

DU: When people understand the ‘why’ they are more likely to accept the 'what.'  This means that in these times, leaders need to communicate and be transparent event more.  They need to help employees feel that while times are difficult, the leaders are making informed and wise choices.  Leaders also have to define and make tough decisions that will help their organisation respond to today's crisis and prepare for tomorrow's opportunities.

3. Do you think the recession will affect whether people sign up to shared services?

DU: Shared services and service centres began as a cost saving and now companies are realising that they need to do more to deliver full value.  It is not just the denominator (cost) that needs to be managed, but the numerator (value).  So, service centres will continue as a cost centre, but they need to become more of a value creator.(Comment: This challenges the basic premise of shared services, so offers a real test for organisations who have implemented this model).

4.What is the role of HR in the recession?  Or should I ask where do you think HR will bring most value in difficult times?

DU: In recession, HR should coach leaders to make prudent business decisions.  Some of this means redesigning HR practices like compensation to save money in the short term.  HR should also play a major role in communication and restructuring the organisation to be efficient in all operations.  At the same time, HR can be the voice of the employee to ensure that tough decisions are made fairly.  Finally, HR need to conceive of the future after the recession so that their organisation is better positioned to go forward.

5. What is HR’s role in identifying the right talent for the right role?

HR professionals should connect with all parts of the organisation to ensure that they take the right approach to build talent.  Talent follows a four step process:

  • Definition: Define the talent required based on future business requirements. This means looking at customer and investor expectations and working to meet them 
  • Assessment: Carry out an assessment of the extent to which an individual does or does not demonstrate the skills
  • Follow up and integration: Make sure that the HR systems reinforce the desired talent

Make sure that the HR systems reinforce the desired talent

6. Recent research, from Roffey Park, highlights the poor perception of HR. What can the HR profession do to raise their profile and how important is it to do this?

HR needs to deliver value. This comes when HR does not think about HR, but about the business. Business leaders need to serve customers, investors, communities, employees, and other stakeholders. When HR professionals can link their work to these stakeholders, they contribute.

Instead of HR asking to be in the boardroom where decisions are made, HR should start by being in the customers’, investors’, and other stakeholders’ mindset so that they can link HR actions to these stakeholders.

Our research has shown the competencies HR professionals must master to deliver value and we have shown how to organise HR departments and design HR practices.

So, the champion of HR again offers some aspirational, but practical solutions for the profession to implement.


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