In the driving seat: where is HR taking your organisation?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 17:26

Guest post by AIM Senior Research Fellow Dr Samantha Johnson

Put your hand up if you are an HR professional?  Keep it up if you know where you’re heading in your profession.  Lucky you.  Apparently you are amongst about 20% of HR practitioners who knows where they’re going. You’re in the driver’s seat. 

HR practitioners have a significant role to play in any organisation and across all employment sectors. Not only do they manage the administrative aspects of hiring us, paying us, supporting us through our careers and seeing us into our retirement, but they enable organisations to achieve their business goals.

The commentary in the HR literature today is about the balance between transactional and transformational HR. Is this just academic waffle, or does it matter?

According to Dave Ulrich – we all know who Dave Ulrich is – this matters a lot.  Professor Ulrich writes profusely about HR. One of his latest articles offers some interesting food for thought.

Dave reminds us that:

  • We’re not there yet.  HR still has a way to go to be as effective as it could be and to drive organisational success.
  •  HR needs to lead, not follow. HR needs to do more than run HR related processes, it needs to solve business problems, to go beyond transactional activities and become truly transformational.  That’s what strategic HR is really all about.
  • Identify what matters and think big. Think carefully about what is measured, as Professor Ulrich says, ‘avoid measuring what is easy and measure what is right.’ This means not measuring an HR activity itself, such as a recruitment process or a training program, but measure the impact of these on the organisation and its people.
  • Good people are great, but committed people are better. HR practices should build competence, commitment and contributions and practitioners need to understand the ‘black box’ of HR.  What really links an HR process to organisational success?  This must be identified and measured.

These are good points of reflection for HR practitioners.  What do they mean?  What should HR practitioners be doing?

  • Keep an eye on purpose.  Avoid slipping backwards and seeing HR as a series of efficient and cost effective processes.
  • Align yourself to the future.  Avoid running processes to achieve outcomes. Instead, consult to the organisation and lead the way to organisational success.
  • Don’t measure HR activities and process.  Measure the impact and purpose of these instead.
  • Don’t recruit smart people and hope they do well. Remember to recruit for job – person fit as well as organisation – person fit and to measure competence and capability separately.

Professor Ulrich also reviews where we are with leadership development. As he states, HR practitioners have, for some time now, adopted the 70-20-10 leadership development model. 

But he suggests that we change this to the 50-30-20 model:

  • 50% of learning comes from the job and from role models
  • 30% comes from effective formal training programs
  • 20% from learning through general life experiences  

And the transfer of learning is not just about doing new and more effective things at work. It’s more about shifting people’s attitudes and behaviours in general. 

As for learning through life experiences, I could not agree more.  Leader development programs would benefit greatly from capturing everyday life experiences and not focusing only on corporate requirements.

Let’s look at performance.  Performance is often measured through 360° performance feedback processes. 

But Dave suggests that we go further than 360° and consider 720° performance feedback processes.

This means that feedback comes from a much broader range of people and includes various external partners and stakeholders.  This is a rather courageous move that HR practitioners could drive.

And what about teamwork?  How many of our HR practices are focused at the individual level?  Can we do more to support teams?  As Dave says, ‘great individual talent may succeed 15 to 25% of the time, but teamwork matters most’.  And yet many of our HR activities remain focused at the individual level.

Professor Ulrich’s final point is this.  He suggests that not only are we still some way from seeing HR blossom into a true corporate partner, but that 20% of HR practitioners will never get to where they need to be to achieve this success, 20% are already there and are driving it and 60% are someone where in the middle.  It’s the 60% that give us the greatest impetus.  If we can get them on board, we’ll be well on our way.  Where do you sit, as an HR professional?

The Australian Institute of Management supports managers and leaders in their roles.  It also undertakes research into what managers need to do their jobs better.  Our training and our research tells us that the HR function in organisations can do more to help middle managers to achieve organisational goals.  And we can help HR practitioners help their managers.   


Ulrich, D. & Dulebohn, J.H. (2015). Are we there yet?  What’s next for HR? Human Resource Management Review, 25, 188 – 204