The HR and Training Journal - Issue 5
10 Questions to... Dave Ulrich
02 December 2008
Dave Ulrich is a Partner and co-founder of The RBL Group and a Professor of Business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He is widely regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on HR and management practice. Here, he reflects on his work and inspirations
How can you best communicate in an organisation?
Communication should be linked with our people system. Those communications, inside or outside, should be consistent with the criteria by which we are hiring people, by which we are training people, by which we are paying people.
What is the greatest challenge for HR over the next year?
Learning to respond to changing business conditions. If the economy gets worse, HR needs to retain the values of co-operation and collaboration and still respond to the competitive realities that we face.
What sort of a person is most sought after by HR?
They know the business, they can have a discussion about the financials and the strategy, they are good strategy architects, they can turn strategy into story, they can make sure HR systems align the strategy, they are good at culture and change, they have great HR expertise around talent and organisation and they are great at getting things done.
What five attributes make a great leader?
Strategist, executor, talent manager, human capital developer and being personally proficient.
What keeps you inspired?
My passion is learning. I am committed to learning. My organisation is doing a lot of work on leadership, and we traditionally approach leadership through HR. We have chief learning officers, we have learning senators, we have training programmes. We learn through teaching others to approach leadership through leaders. It is thought that leaders should train leaders – that if leaders train leaders, we will have better leadership. But it still is not happening. There still seems to be a crisis of leadership. So where do we need to go to get better leadership? Finding the answer to this question keeps me excited.
How can you balance aspirations and resources?
This is a paradox. On the one hand, you want people to believe they can be anything. On the other hand, you want them to be realistic about their beliefs. You need to ask: what is it you want? What are your aspirations? What do you desire? The most critical question we can ever ask is what is wanted. If you do not know what you want, you are not going to have an aspiration.
But if aspirations are too high?
At the same time, you need to get real. When I was young, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. But guess what I learned? I can't jump, I can't shoot and I am slow. If we go too high on the aspiration side of things, you can be anything you want, but if we are not real with people around resource, we do people a false service. On the other hand, the reality approach – 'gee, I just can't do it' – depresses people. Somehow we have to get the balance right.
What is the most important moment in your career?
When I was doing my doctorate. Everybody took their exams at the end of their third year, but I was a little arrogant and I decided to take them at the end of my second year. I failed. That was actually a very good experience. They looked at me and they said, 'You are bright, but you don't get it'. I spent nine months relearning the importance of learning – not just answering the questions. Most people need a failure so that you can test their resilience.
What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Trying to keep ahead of a field that is moving quickly. I like to see what is going to happen next and it is tough to do that when the field is moving so fast.