I’ve been dreaming about the issues David Ulrich and colleagues’ new book, HR from the Outside In, deals with since the 1990s. Until this book came out, the ruling gods of Human Resources were recruiting, training, benefits and supporting the business. The obvious consequences were that HR managers and execs had no seat at the table, didn’t understand the firm’s business and acted passively around line managers and execs. The more serious consequences were that HR failed to center on the goals of the business and contribute significantly to business performance.
HR from the Outside In offers a radically different orientation to Human Resources, reframing the whole game and resolving issues I’ve faced in both small and large companies all over the nation. Ulrich argues that “aligned, innovative, and integrated HR practices make a dramatic difference in individual and organizational performance.” That’s a mouthful, and you’ll need to work through the book to fully understand the importance of what he’s saying. What’s unique about the book is its emphasis upon a new HR mindset that starts with the external context in which the business operates and the goals of that business--not internal disciplines and technologies. To achieve these objectives, the authors focus upon personal effectiveness and the relevant knowledge for both HR professionals and departments to improve business success.
In a book such as this, where a major shift in a discipline is proposed, the authors need to provide a rationale for their thinking. And so their first chapter is largely devoted to this changing external context which justifies their shift in the discipline. The writers think of their rationale as “trends,” enumerating six ever-changing issues which drive their research and conclusions: society, technology, economics, politics, environment and demographics. In the following chapters, they show how different companies around the world emphasize HR and deal successfully with local and national issues relating to their “trends.”
Their goal is straightforward, as the authors lay out plainly in three statements: determine what HR pros should be and do to be seen as personally effective, what pros should be know and do to improve business success, and what they should focus upon to improve business performance.
As a result and in order to achieve this objective, the authors lay out six (extensive) competencies for the future of human resources. They include such domains as credible activist, capability builder, change champion and tech proponent. The most important focus, the foundational objective of the book, is the chapter about the strategic positioner: HR professionals who facilitate business strategy through their objectives and practices. Although the authors provide ways for getting at business strategy and applying it to HR, the most useful and unique means for getting at strategy issues is found in the chapter on building capabilities. There, the authors detail an approach that takes the strategic emphasis seriously, and walks the reader through a six step process for aligning HR practices:
- Business: where will we do a strategic HR linkage?
- Environment: What are the business trends?
- Strategy: What are the strategic drivers for the business?
- HR investment: What are hr priorities?
- Action plans: Who will do what, when, where and how?
- Measures or metrics: How will we measure progress?
In our tumultuous times, HR has a significant contribution to make to the success of businesses, a perspective not readily understood or even shared by many outside the field. Indeed, HR from the Outside In offers a highly transformative process, fit for today’s business world. Thus, this book deserves to be on the shelf of every practitioner and put into daily practice.
Dave Ulrich, et al, HR from the Outside In. (New York: McGraw Hill), 2012.
Flickr photo by Sean MacEntee