Dave UlrichGuest Author

Looking Back to 2019 and Forward to 2020

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

What did you learn in 2019? What do you anticipate learning in 2020?

Learning is one of my highest personal values which requires reflection on what has happened and curiosity about what might happen. 

So, what did I learn in 2019?

Health Matters. Cancer, spinal surgery, hip replacement, retina detachment, early dementia, neuropathy, macular degeneration, recurring blood clots, … these are some of the physical challenges my close friends and colleagues have faced this year. Yikes!  Bodies break down as aging inevitably affects physical condition. In the face of physical deterioration, emotional well being, social connection, intellectual acuity, and spiritual fulfillment can continue to improve at any age. I have learned this year that overall health matters as I try to not let increasing physical limitations inhibit my capacity. Hopefully, leaders “take care of themselves” and retain overall health so that they can adapt to on-going challenges. 

Relationships Matter.  I increasingly recognize the importance of relationships that provide attachment at many levels. I am most grateful for immediate family where I experience sustainable joy with my wife, kids, grandkids, mother, and siblings. I also appreciate long term personal friendships and professional colleagues. These friends and colleagues respond to my bids and nurture my heart, mind, and soul. I relish new acquaintances in person and online. These new relationships give me new insights and perspectives. Maintaining family, personal, professional, and associate relationships entail tolerance and work, but it is worth it.  Leaders lead and organizations thrive when positive relationships exist. 

Organizations Matter. My first book (with Dale Lake) was Organization Capability: Competing from the Inside Out (1990) and my latest book in 2019 is Reinventing the Organization with Arthur Yeung. In this latest work, we have discovered and codified an emerging organizational species — the Market Oriented Ecosystem (MOE). This work has evolved my learning about the impact of organizations on employees, customers, and investors. In addition, the 6 dimensions of this new MOE organizational logic allows reinventing traditional organizations so that they adapt to changing business conditions. 

Impact Matters. I have tried to live by the simple mantra “ideas with impact.” For many years, I have emphasized the “ideas” part of this manta and diligently tried to be a thought leader. Now, I realize that the harder part of this manta is the “impact” or how to make sure that ideas make a difference, or add value to someone else. Emphasizing impact shifts being a thought leader to thought partner and to realizing that ideas without impact are hollow hopes that will not be sustainable. Impact means that others benefit from the ideas; that ideas are less what I think and more what others do; that I worry less about taking credit for an idea, but celebrate others owning the idea. I increasingly like the term “so that” which leads me to pivot from ideas so that they have an impact. Focusing on leadership impact, I have learned that I don’t have to like the personality or characteristics of a leader to admire what the leader accomplishes. 

So, what do I want to learn in 2020?

How do I provide guidance?   With great colleagues, we have worked for years to describe leadership traits (e.g., defining the leadership code and brand and doing a 360 to assess how a leader demonstrates those competencies), culture (e.g., identifying the underlying norms, patterns, and values of an organization), and HR (e.g., describing the personal traits of an HR professional or the dimensions of an HR department). 

I would like to pivot from description to prescription. When I visit a doctor, I want the doctor not only to tell me what is wrong (e.g., you have virus), but to offer me a cure (e.g., take this medication). In the next year, I would like to move from identifying leadership competencies to determining which competencies have desired impact on outcomes that matter, to define the “right” culture so that internal values create value for customers and investors, and to continue to move beyond describing HR competencies and departments to advising on where to invest so that HR has more impact. My partner Norm Smallwood calls this logic moneyball where descriptive statistics pivot towards prescriptive actions.

With my colleagues, we hope to explore how to establish an organization guidance system that delivers targeted and sustainable impact. Guidance combines digital work focused on information and analytics insights that deliver impact to influence desired outcomes.

How do I envision a future and celebrate what can be?. Most individuals and organizations want to improve and become more effective. In the last few years, improvement often comes by overcoming failure, being resilient, demonstrating grit, and persevering. An underlying assumption in this logic is to improve by looking back to learn from what did not work. I agree with this work (ergo this blog), but I would like to focus more on looking forward to envisioning what can be and then take small incremental steps (nudges) to move towards what is right. I want to learn how to let go of the past in pursuit of the future, focus more on what works than what does not, and to celebrate success more than overcome failures.

How do I run with patience?  Throughout my career, I like to challenge assumptions, create new ideas, and move aggressively forward. I tend to run, often with passion, verve, and abandon. One of my favorite passages from the Bible is the advice, “in patience possess ye your souls.”  This advice applies to leaders who need to be calm, curious, and compassionate (taught to me by Wendy my wife) as they enact their agenda; to use organization data to guide thoughtful decisions, and to me (and others I know) to harness ambition. In modern lingo to navigate the paradox of running with patience requires learning to become more mindful, live in the present, and appreciate the solemnity of each moment rather than grappling to overcome the past or being anxious to create a future.  

Ergo … If my personal brand is tied to learning and if I work to help leaders, organizations, and HR professionals and departments learn, I hope I can do an honest self-assessment on what has been (2019) so that I can discover what will be (2020) By so doing, the best is yet ahead.

So, what have you learned in the past year and what do you hope to discover in the next?

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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