Thursday, 18 March 2010

What on earth is Dave Ulrich on about now?

I promise that if I read the phrase “HR guru” once more I shall scream. Loud. And if the sentence also contains the words Dave and/or Ulrich I may not be able to account for my subsequent actions.

Here’s the latest Ulrich Utterance:
I think that HR people should market themselves as a professional services firm within their own organisation, being a key account manager for the most important clients.
Does anybody understand what this sort of claptrap means?

Not for one moment am I suggesting that HR should revert to referring to itself as “Personnel” but, come on, hands on heart, do any of us actually believe that the man in the street, the mythical man on the Clapham omnibus knows what is meant by the concepts of Professional Services, Business Partner or even Human Resources?

Ulrich also scornfully refers to those within HR who, particularly during a downturn, “go back to concentrating on transactional processes and cost-cutting.” They may not be the only activities of HR, but to constantly denigrate them and leave them languishing in the lower divisions of the HR league is a fatal mistake.

Ulrich has claimed that as a result of organisations adopting his recommendations, HR has moved from dedicating 70–80% of its resources to administrative work to 15–20%, without a loss of quality. As stated by the CIPD, whether organisations have in reality been as successful as he claims must be in doubt.

But we need to apply some good old British cold and clinical logic to much of what is regularly regurgitated by this transatlantic trendsetter!

Am I the only one who is beginning to view Ulrich as the HR equivalent of a crackpot nutritionist, offering quick-fix solutions based on little empirical evidence, but wrapped up in pseudo-scientific terminology?

Guys: it’s time to get real. Drop the guru. Engage the brain. And think for yourselves.

CIPD: HR should market itself as a professional services firm, says Dave Ulrich


  1. And here in lies the difficulty with a multi-disciplinary function such as HR. I absolutely get HR operating in a professional consultative role when you are expecting the business to operate a devolved model – i.e. managers actually having to manage their staff and using HR as a source of advice and guidance.

    However, if you wrap something like payroll under the HR umbrella (which is often the case) then you can’t get away from administrative processes that are crucial to the running of the business - transactional processing that you ignore at your peril!

    Yes, we all want a function that is value add. But I don’t think anyone should try and go for a one size fits all approach. Depending on the culture, depending on the organisation HR can add that value in many different ways.
    So – no gurus needed just HR professionals that ensure that everything they do contributes to the business they are in.

    That’s my view anyway – for what it’s worth.


  2. The single biggest omission from HR as a profession is the ability to think for itself. Either that or balls. But that makes two, or indeed three if you add them up.....

  3. HR do have balls (and some are very nice)! However, it’s difficult when they are castrated by short sighted boards!


  4. Like so many self-flagellating functions in todays business world until the 'HR professionals' come up with a solid, constructive, alternative to the 'HR gurus' you will always be reactive, defensive and seen as derivative. A kind of karaoke function: always trying to imitate an ideal and never getting it right.

    If Ullrich is a prat, please tell me what acceptable alternative is on offer.

  5. Why do we need an alternative? Can you name me one gur that talks about structuring a finance department or a marketing department?

  6. @TheHRD I'm not sue you do need an alternative in absolute terms. My point, poorly made, was that putting up Ullrich as a pain in the bum *without* being clear about anything better serves only to reinforce a perception in some areas that HR/Human Capital Management/Personnel, whateva, is in some way insecure, undertain and ultimately an easy target for poor management and leadership elsewhere.

    HR has to project a strong clear proposition inside the companies it serves. I see this happen rarely.

  7. @Mike B - I've written quite a lot about this, so I won't bang on about it here and ruin Graham's blog. In short my answer would be the alternative is whatever is right for your company. HR people whould understand their business and be flexible enough, creative enough and ballsy enough to carve out a bespoke proposition and strategy that suits, engages and grows their company.

  8. @TheHRD - I think we're agreeing furiously!!!

  9. TheHRD - exactly the point I made!


  10. All:

    Thanks for making your points so clearly! Great to read from people who feel passionate about the issue!