Dave UlrichGuest Author

HR N.0 Ten Ideas Shaping the Future of Human Capability

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

Structured information based on empirical research looks back to study what has happened. Unstructured information based on thoughtful observation envisions opportunities to shape what could happen next. With so many others, my colleagues and I have done and reported structured research about people and organizations.

This post relies on unstructured observation to propose ten ideas (call them adages, axioms, headlines, maxims, or postulates) that I (and others) have talked about and that continue to shape the future of HR, simply called HR N.0. (not 2.0 or 3.0 or 4.0, but n.0 which implies somewhere in the future). These ten ideas are not a complete list, yet each builds on and evolves previous work to envision what HR can become. These ideas where the keynote talk at the #PeopleMatters TechHR conference hosted in Singapore end of September. My gratitude to them for hosting the conference. 

1.  Think outside-in. Context is the kingdom; content is the king. No question that the environmental context (physical, technological, social, political setting) shapes organization content about what is done. Content requires new work assumptions around personalizing work, harnessing uncertainty, and navigating paradoxes, and a stream of innovation work practices to act on those assumptions. 

2.  Add value to others. HR is not about HR but about creating value for all stakeholders. HR work delivers value to internal stakeholders by helping employees fulfill their potential and by reinventing business strategies. HR also helps external stakeholders by creating customer share, investor confidence, and community reputation. HR activities matter less than the value those activities deliver to all stakeholders. 

3.  Deliver human capability. HR delivers value through talent, organization, leadership, and HR work. The nearly unlimited initiatives around people and organization can be captured into a human capability framework that becomes the foundation for organizing and advancing the HR profession. This framework evolves the HR profession from personnel to human resources to human capital to human capability (figure 1).

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This human capability logic informs HR choices for business and HR leaders and offers regulatory disclosure for investors. The human capability framework (figure 2) we have prepared and tested answers questions about the HR contributions that create value.

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4.  Enrich talent (individual competence). Our people are our customers’ most important asset. In the human capability framework in figure 2, talent, or people, are the raw ingredients that make any organization work. HR work enables employees to possess the technical and social competencies to deliver customer value, the commitment to being fully engaged, and a sense of contribution through the employee experience that predicts a customer experience.

5.  Establish culture (organization capability). Culture is the identity of the firm in the mind of our key customers made real to employees. Organizations (in blue of human capability framework) should be defined less by their morphology (shape, number of levels of management, policies, or roles) and more by the capabilities that they are known for and good at doing. Creating a culture starts with defining the desired identity (or brand) in the mind of key customers (and investors and communities): this ensures that organizations create the right culture.

6.  Enhance leadership. Leaders, at all levels, make others feel better about themselves. Few doubt the impact of leaders (green box of human capability framework) on personal and organization success, and most have experienced both effective and ineffective leaders. While billions of ideas on leadership are floating out there (google “leader”), at its simplest, leadership’s primary stewardship is to help people improve and feel better about themselves and to create sustainable organizations. This leadership task is done by leaders at all levels of an organization.

7.  Enable HR. Effective HR departments focus on relationships; effective HR professionals are defined by verbs (actions) not nouns (roles). Most organizations have an HR department that turns HR knowledge into HR practices that shape how work is done (hiring, paying, training, communication, setting policies, etc.). In our work, effective HR departments are less about these practices or how HR departments are structured and more about relationships both within the HR department among HR people and between the HR department and employees who use HR services. Relationships matter more than roles. In addition, the competencies of HR professionals are less about their roles as characterized by nouns (credible activist, change agent, employee champion, business partner) and more about their actions as characterized by verbs (accelerates business, advances human capability, simplifies complexity, fosters collaboration, mobilizes information)Enable both HR departments and HR people through the human capabilities of talent, organization, and leadership (see figure 2).

8.  Prioritize human capability choices. Organization guidance is more important than benchmarking or finding best practices. Too often business and HR leaders mimic each other by copying best practices and trying to benchmark against others. HR creates more value by knowing which of all the human capability initiatives (in talent, leadership, organization, and HR) have the greatest impact on your key business outcomes. This means moving to guidance where priorities are set and investments made that deliver outcomes that matter to your specific organization.

9.  Take care of yourself so you can care for others. Emotional well-being starts with oneself. In today’s changing environmental context where emotional well-being and mental health challenges (loneliness, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and sadness) are increasing, caregiving is ever more important. To be a caregiver, as a business leader, HR professional, or individual, starts by caring for oneself. Taking care of oneself is attending to and discovering physical, social, emotional, social, and spiritual resources to cope with daily demands. Then caregivers help others discover resources that help them care for themselves as well.

10. Commit to continuous learning. The best is yet to come. Attempts to predict the future and prepare for a “new normal” are futile because contextual challenges will likely continue to disrupt daily plans. But a commitment to continually learning by being observant and curious, studying, and experimenting helps one adapt to what can be. With a mindset that the best is yet ahead, HR professionals, business leaders, and people in general can replace hopelessness with hopefulness.

These ten ideas are not complete (add your own), but they indicate the incredible opportunities (and challenges) for HR N.0. You can use the summary in table 1 to identify where you might focus and how you score on each.

Which one would you focus on first?

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