A few weeks ago Joyce Chastain and I had the opportunity to interview Dave Ulrich specifically on the topic of “Becoming a Relevant HR Leader.” Not only was it an honor to interview a man who has had a great impact on our profession, but listening to his advice made me reflect on my own career and forced me to ask myself if I am doing the things that make me a true relevant HR leader.
To give you a brief overview, Dave Ulrich is a professor at the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. He is a management coach and consultant and he co-founded The RBL Group, a leadership consulting company. He is also a speaker and an author, having written over 25 books on the topics of leadership and human resources.
There is no doubt that Ulrich has made a mark in the field of Human Resources: he’s been dubbed as the “father of human resources,” receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from HR Magazine in 2012, for which he was also honored as the most influential person in HR for three years. So what did I learn from the Father of Human Resources?
The 20-60-20 Rule
In the interview, Dave shared that HR people are categorized into three groups. Those that belong to the top 20 percent are considered as the best of the best. These people are strategic, talent-focused, and understand business results. The next group is the middle 60 percent, who may have the ability to transform themselves into the top 20 percent. And lastly, the bottom 20 percent, which consists of those who will never understand that their role integrates with the organization they serve. In short, they will never get it. These are the people who do not bother to learn the details of their business.
So which among these three should you focus on?
Dave says that we should focus on the 60 percent, and it makes absolute sense. The first group basically knows what they’re doing, and they’re the ones whose goals are synchronized with that of the company’s, so minimal supervision is required. On the other hand, directing most of your attention to the bottom 20 percent may only prove futile, because they just are not going to get it. These are the people who still focus on command and control and love to find ways to stifle the organization with all the reasons why an initiative won’t work or why we can’t fire someone. In short, they love to be the department of “NO” or the HR police. Sometimes, taking off your HR “Cop” uniform is not really an act of defeat or surrender, but rather an act of strategic thinking. Instead, strive to focus your time where you will get the best business results.
Focusing on the 60 percent
Now that you know where to focus your efforts, the next challenge is HOW? Dave outlined two points to help us accomplish this.
His first point is to start working on the intellectual agenda. This entails shifting your mindset in the way you see who your real customers are. As a HR professional, who is your customer? Recently, I was recruiting for a HR manager in Atlanta, and I asked all the candidates this exact question, “Who are your customers?” Every single one of them replied “the employees.” What most HR people think is their customers are the employees of the company, because after all it’s them that we serve or cater to. Wrong! If you are a relevant HR professional you know the customers of HR people are the customers of the company itself—those people that pay for the bills and buy your products and services.
So instead of thinking about how you can help your employees, think about how you can help your business with the overall goal of making money. Believe me, by supporting the goal of making money you are supporting your employees.
The second point comes from a behavioral perspective. This means starting with simple behaviors and directing your focus on building talent, leadership, and culture to make growth happen. We as HR professionals should act as both pastors and parents to the employees we serve. As pastors, we focus on the social side. As parents, we take care of the business side.
Potential of HR as CEO
Interestingly, Dave talked about the tremendous value HR can add to any company, and I am a believer in that. What’s more interesting is that Dave’s study suggested that the profile of an effective CEO actually matches that of an effective Chief HR Officer. So if we as HR people have that business skill set, then we certainly can be candidates for CEO. Let me ask you what one thing can you do today to get yourself to the next level?
Long Term Commitment
Another important lesson I learned from Dave is transforming how we lead from a choice model to a commitment model. Sometimes, we have so many things on our plate each day, we get caught up in our daily choices and tend to set the more important aspects aside. We are too preoccupied with making the right choices everyday, such as “what does the handbook tell us” or “what does the labor attorney tell us.” We should instead focus on the long-term commitments that we need to make in order to achieve long-term business success.
Lastly, we should act as anthropologists. We are called Human Resource professionals for a reason. You should interact with your employees as humans instead of treating them like they are our numbers. The best value you have as a HR professional is to invest in yourself and then invest in others. I always like to say in my leadership presentations that the action is in the interaction we have with people.
Jonathan “JJ” Jarrell , is a Regional Human Resource Manager for Performance Food Group in Gainesville, FL as well as a certified emotional intelligence coach. You can actually listen to this interview on his website, www.jj-jarrell.com.