Enterprise leaders called upon to assume new roles
David Ulrich, the world’s top management educator, according to Business Week magazine, will today conduct an executive seminar at the Athens Concert Hall. The University of Michigan professor of business administration and consultant to more than half of the Fortune 200 companies, is back in action, refreshed after a three-year sabbatical. Just before coming to Greece, Ulrich spoke to Kathimerini about the new roles business leaders must adopt, particularly in the human resources department, in order to bring added value to their corporation. What are the most important lessons you learned while being away from the action? What new ideas have come out of your humanitarian-religious mission, as far as effective resource management is concerned? My absence from the business world has given me the opportunity to think through several important subjects of current importance and their future developments. Many of the lessons I have learned in this three-year mission are personal. On a professional level, my absence from the business world has helped me realize more intensely the crucial role people and their personal needs play. Companies that do well serve their people, covering their universal needs for growth, meaning at work, hope and relationship development. I have also realized the importance of added value, but as defined by the recipient and not the supplier. I have finally realized the key role of leadership in agenda forming and in committing people to meeting targets. The book I am currently preparing on leadership brand reflects this idea in detail. Most professionals who know your work in Greece single out the «HR Champions» model, which refers to the roles human resources (HR) management staff ought to play to add the biggest possible value to a company. Today you are revising this model. Why? Market conditions have led me not exactly to revising but to enriching the previous model. The rapid pace of change today requires more than ever the immediate adjustment of companies to the new environment. A second factor is the absolute reign of information. Technology allows for direct access to information, so that customers make more informed choices. The third reason is competition pressures. Company viability and success require their adjustment to customer needs and toward the effort for meeting them as much as possible. So what are the roles human resource professionals have to assume today? One of the most important roles for human resources department professionals is the management of corporate culture. They must form a corporate identity inside and outside the company, as well as a fundamental intra-company action framework. They also have to be flexible to change, facilitating the adjustment of the firm and its staff to the ever-changing environment. It is also of vital significance that HR link its work with external clients and strengthen its credibility through creating relationships of trust. The majority of Greek companies are small to medium-sized, with limited HR sections that take on plenty of tasks with few resources. How should they prioritize their roles to achieve optimal results? The first thing they must do is realize that small and medium-sized enterprises need a separate HR department, staffed by specialized professionals. In companies of such size, HR professionals are invited to adopt many roles at the same time. They must simultaneously work strategically and administratively, and represent both the management and the employees. Priority must go to understanding the needs of the enterprise, to realigning with the leaders’ goals, to coaching the leading group and finally to constructing new organizational abilities. There is widespread worry about the future of HR owing to the expansion of HR outsourcing and the intense involvement of «line management» with human resources administration practices. Is this justified? I believe the function of HR is split between the two. On the one side there are the administrative tasks that are made better, faster and cheaper with the help of technology and outsourcing. This means that with fewer resources the same or even better results can be achieved in this sector. On the other side there is the restructuring mission of HR, which includes coaching, change normalization, project management and the planning of new organizing abilities. This is the side of the function of HR that will grow ever more in the future. Your new book, «The HR Value Proposition,» has been published internationally for some months now. How have its new ideas on people management and HR roles been received? The book revises and enriches the role of HR, as it is a product of many years of research on 29,000 staff management professionals and managers. I am very satisfied by its reception so far. Generally, according to my experience from the 12 books I have written, on every change we see a 20-60-20 reaction. Some 20 percent of HR professionals who read it find practices they already use, so they like the book. Another 20 percent is either unable or disinterested in adding value to their company. The majority 60 percent of its readers find in its pages ideas and practices that can function in their businesses. Which research subject are you involved with at the moment and what are your plans for the near future? I am preparing two books. The first will examine leadership brand, which should not be restricted to the inside of a company: The personal reputation of a leader must reflect the corporate identity to the company’s best customers and partners. The second book is a study on how successful enterprises are built by serving such basic needs of their human resources as learning, development, hope and meaning at work.