TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 17 - Dave Ulrich

December 03, 2020 Fuel50 / Dave Ulrich Season 1 Episode 17
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 17 - Dave Ulrich
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TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 17 - Dave Ulrich
Dec 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 17
Fuel50 / Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich, known as ‘the father of modern HR’, joins us in this episode to share his wisdom and thoughts around how organizations are coping in this world of incredible change. To help you make sense of the rapid changes we cover what good business leaders have been able to do through harnessing uncertainty and using the crises as an opportunity. Dave shares his biggest piece of advice regarding the most important thing HR leaders can give their employees, which could shift your mindset!

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. Connect with Dave at http://daveulrich.com, on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/daveulrichpro/ or on Twitter @dave_ulrich.

For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

Show Notes Transcript

Dave Ulrich, known as ‘the father of modern HR’, joins us in this episode to share his wisdom and thoughts around how organizations are coping in this world of incredible change. To help you make sense of the rapid changes we cover what good business leaders have been able to do through harnessing uncertainty and using the crises as an opportunity. Dave shares his biggest piece of advice regarding the most important thing HR leaders can give their employees, which could shift your mindset!

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. Connect with Dave at http://daveulrich.com, on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/daveulrichpro/ or on Twitter @dave_ulrich.

For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

John Hollon  00:26
Hello, I'm John Hollon and welcome to the latest episode of TalentX, the talent experience podcast. Today's guest is Dave Ulrich. Dave is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm that's focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, speed, learning, accountability and talent through leveraging human resources. He's helped generate award winning databases that assess alignment between strategies, organization capabilities, HR practices, HR competencies, and customer and investor results. 

Dave has published over 200 articles and over 25 books, he edited Human Resource Management, from 1990 to 1999. He served on Editorial Board of four journals on the board of directors for the office furniture maker Herman Miller, and on the board of trustees at Southern Virginia University. He's also a fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources. Dave, I know that only touches on a little bit of all the various things you've done. But thank you for joining us. How are you?

Dave Ulrich  01:43
Oh, John, when you read that I get tired all over again. I am doing great. Obviously the world is in a state of flux. But I hope our lives are in a state of somewhat interesting and curiosity. So on most dimensions I'm doing absolutely great.

John Hollon  01:59
Great. There's so much I'd love to ask you about but let me start with this. I was looking at your 2019 book, Reinventing the Organization: How Companies Can Deliver Radically Greater Value in Fast-Changing Markets and given what we've gone through here in 2020, I couldn't help but think how relevant the point you made in that book is today that the traditional hierarchy based organization is dead, and that leaders need to know what really works so they can build an organization that's responsive to fast changing markets. What's your take on how leaders and organizations are coping with the need to change as we reflect on all that's happened to us in 2020? 

Dave Ulrich  02:43
Oh, I could write a whole book on that, John. Oh, we did write a book on that. The logic is really simple and this is not sexist at all, but content is king. What we do is critical. Context is the kingdom in which the king or queen operates. The context determines what matters, content is what we do, context is what we should be doing. And the world right now in 2020, there's a tool, and you may know the name of it, it's a movie called Men In Black, they have a neutralizer they click a button, and the world stops. 

Well, I think most of us are going to want to do that to 2020. I mean, look at what's happened, we've had the global pandemic COVID crisis that has affected 7 billion people. I mean, it's affected every country in the world, in every corner of the world. We've had racial injustice in the United States, and that's called immigration and refugees throughout Europe and Asia. We've had social problems. We've had in America, worse than almost anybody a political bickering, that is just disgusting to everybody. We've had natural disasters, we've had economic [instability]. So all of these things add up to just being a world of incredible change and the one word I've discovered around that is uncertainty. You just don't know. 

When somebody comes to you and says, John, "here's the new normal", what you have to do is turn around and run as fast as you can. Because if they knew the new normal, they'd be rich in the stock market. They don't know the new normal, nobody does. We live in this world of incredible change. So what does that mean? The kingdom, the context is uncertainty/change from all this stuff. What is the king or queen the leaders in the organization have to do? We got to adjust, we got to adapt, change or die. It's not a new idea. But that pace of change in the last seven months is more than we've almost ever seen. And so we've got to get organizations and leaders who can change.

John Hollon  04:43
Dave, what kind of observations if you have any and I'm sure you do. Do you have on what business leaders are doing well in the midst of this, and what should they be doing in your view?

Dave Ulrich  04:59
Number one, I think good business leaders are being able to what I'm going to call harness uncertainty, they're going to be able to say we don't know exactly what's going to happen. That's uncertainty. So we're not going to give you false hope. A bad business leader would say, this is going to be over by April, it's going to be over by June. Well, we don't know when it's going to be over. So how do you harness that uncertainty? How do you take the uncertainty and find opportunity in it? And good leaders are starting to do that. They're saying, let's focus on the future. What can we do? 

Somebody once said, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. How do we use this crisis as an opportunity to create new stuff, to innovate, to try new things, to experiment quickly, to define new relationships. And I see companies doing that. I see companies becoming more digitally focused, I see companies becoming more sensitive to people and some of the needs of people. And hopefully, leaders are not locked by their past but they're excited about their future.

John Hollon  06:02
Okay. You have literally written the book, in fact, a great many of them about human resources and you've been referred to as the father of modern HR. So this question should be right in your sweet spot. What should HR professionals be doing right now, given the chaotic state of work, and in so many of the workplaces that we watch? I know you've been writing a lot on this, but what's the most critical and essential advice you would give them?

Dave Ulrich  06:33
If I had to pick one. By the way, the joke advice is take your lowest performing employee, and use this as an excuse to place them in your competitor. No, that's a joke. That's a joke. That's not good advice. That's just a silly thing. The advice is use this as a way to reframe your assumption. Let me give an example. When I meet with HR groups, I almost always start with a question. What's the most important thing we in HR, or a business leader can give our employees? Multiple choice test. One: belief, purpose, meaning. Two: belonging, a sense of relationship, a sense of community. C: becoming, learning, growth. D: all the above, believe, become, belong. Or E: none of the above. And everybody picks 4. Oh, believe, become, belong, that's what we want to give our employees. They're wrong, it's number five, none of the above. 

The most important thing that HR can give an employee or a business leader is a company or an organization that succeeds in the marketplace. Unless and until a company succeeds in the marketplace, there is no workplace. So I see HR people, even as recently as yesterday, somebody said, well, that's not true, it's all about the employee. And I said, if there's no marketplace, if there's no company, if there's no organization, there is no employee. You've got to get HR focused on the marketplace. So what do we do with talent in order to be successful in the marketplace? People say, our people are our most important asset, I love to say our people are our customers most important asset. Are we hiring, training, paying, developing our people, so that customers will have a better experience with us? Our culture is the roots of our tree. It's our fundamental values. Wrong. 

Culture are the leaves and branches of your tree that cause your customers to do business with you. Don't go digging around the roots, create branches that have fruits and that customers savor. And leadership is not about your competencies. It's the competencies that customers want you to demonstrate. And so my simple and by the way, that sounds really simple, it's not easy to do, is to get HR people focus less on what they know, what they do, and much more on the value they create in the marketplace.

Boy I should write a book on that.

John Hollon  09:02
You should. And my guess is that you probably will.

Dave Ulrich  09:05
I probably have written five on the same topic.  

John Hollon  09:10
Dave, we've seen a lot of workplace trends accelerate during the pandemic and the lockdown. Things like the growth of gig work and remote work. But are these trends sustainable when things start to normalize again, and I know that we don't know when that is going to happen, but if they are sustainable longer term, what's the long term impact on workplace culture?

Dave Ulrich  09:37
You know, the answer is, I don't know how sustainable. I remember and most people may not remember 9/11 and I bet John, can you remember where you were when that happened?

John Hollon  09:49
Absolutely.

Dave Ulrich  09:50
Where were you?

John Hollon  09:51
I was driving a car to work and I had heard that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers and I thought it must have been like a small plane and then I heard the second, that a second plane hit. And I said something else is going on and I got to work and everybody was just shaken. I remember everything about that day, really intensely.

Dave Ulrich  10:18
By the way, so do I. I mean, I'm old enough to remember the day I knew Kennedy was killed. We have those emotional events and Walmart for the next few months, the biggest selling items on credit cards in Walmart, were Americana, kind of being proud of America and relationship stuff, rings, gifts, because people wanted to rebuild relationships. And everybody said, Oh, this is going to last. You know, it hasn't lasted. And so I don't know how long virtual will last, what I think we're gonna see are a couple of principles emerge. And let me share the one that you just referred to.

One of the lessons I think out of this is going to become a principle that will be adapted is almost everyone I know is affected uniquely by the pandemic. John, you're in Orange County, California, I'm in Utah. We have a friend named Paganne, who's in New Zealand, we're all affected, but we're affected in different ways. I have three kids, you have kids as well. I have one daughter, who's a psychologist, she's quit her job to homeschool her two kids. I have another daughter who's a teacher, she and her husband have decided to have dual careers. One of them is home teaching kids while the other's at work. Our son is a more traditional family, he goes to work at 7am comes home at six, and his wife is raising the kids. My wife and I, we're older, obviously, you can hear it in my old voice. But we're living in our house quarantine is not that onerous for us. We have a pretty big house, we each get to go to our own office. I think everybody seems to be affected differently. 

I think we're going to see that coming back into the workplace, that when people come back, we're going to say, what was your experience like? I had to give up this. I had to do that. Wow, well, how do we personalize the work experience when we come back to work. I think that's one of the things that may stick. The way it's going to stick is some people are going to say, John, I know you for a long time, we've worked at home before. This isn't that new to me. Only I used to write in, we did a family newsletter at the holidays Christmas season and my address was seat 2A because that was the address on the airplane. In fact, I used to sit on airplanes, and I'd make a little mark on the window with my pen, I sat here and I get on a plane and they would have three marks By the way, that's kind of pathetic. But you know, we're going to be very different. And I think we're all going to have different places where we work for some it may be home, others it may be Starbucks, airplanes, hotels, remote work.

What I think we're going to also see is the boundaries of work are not the physical place, the office, but they're going to be the shared values of the company. So I don't care where you work in the future but are you creating value for the customers we serve? If you're not creating value for the customers we serve, wherever you are, you're not doing work today. I think that's a principle. And those are the kinds of things, I could keep going, I think we're gonna see personalization, I think we're gonna see boundaries are not the place but the shared values. I think we're gonna see those kinds of things as we go forward that I think may have some sticking power. 

John Hollon  13:32
Do you think that remote work is going to stick? A lot of people are working remotely now. In fact, I'm not sure where I heard these from, but I heard figures that prior to the pandemic and the lockdown, something like 10% of the workforce worked remotely. And now it's somewhere between I don't know 40 and 50%? That sounds a lot to me. I'm not sure if that's right but still, that's a lot of people to be working outside the workplace. Do you think that will stick?

Dave Ulrich  14:06
I think it'll stick for some. I've seen studies and we don't have perfect data. You know what's interesting, I would have thought the digital natives the the young generation would love it. They don't. At least the studies I've seen and again, these are not big studies, these are in companies studies. The next generation is saying I can do technology, I'm technologically literate, I'm a digital native, but I need connection. Sitting home watching John in a screen is wonderful, but I want to connect, I want to build relationships and what I've seen is different people are going to have different predispositions to working remotely. I actually like it. I've never worked in a traditional office because what does a professor do? You write exams to mess people up? No, you you write books, you do research. You don't do that in community. You go teach your class but then you do the rest in isolation. So I think we'll see less remote work than we have now but more than we did, and that's a really bad answer. 

John Hollon  15:08
Well, the one thing, you know, I've worked remotely for like 10 years now and I worked in an office environment, like your one son, got up in the morning and drove to the office and got my coffee on the way and was there a certain time and then I came home. The one thing I miss the most about remote work is the casual conversations you have in an office environment, in the lunch room, or over the coffee pot, or somebody pokes their head in your office or in your cube that lead to creative solutions, innovations, and problem solving that you have never gotten and that you can't get from the remote way that you do things. Have you heard or seen of anybody who's made any sort of inroads on how to make that work for people who work remotely?

Dave Ulrich  16:01
No, not yet. I mean, we tried Zoom, and we tried breakout groups. Here's what happens in breakout groups, you go to the group, it takes people five minutes to get there, they hedge around and then they go back together. I mean, breakout groups aren't doing what you just described. You have examples, I'm sitting here with some scotch tape on my finger 3M, the example of the post it notes. We're not on video, but the post it notes that came from a random interaction between somebody and you all know the story of somebody at a church choir and they glued the wooden stick. I think there's so many things that are kind of realistic combustion that comes from those relationships. 

Now, there's some work, obviously, some work has to be done in an office. Our son lives near a meat processing plant, you're not going to do meat processing, virtually. I talked to a company that's building food, and they said, we have processing plants all over the world, we have to do a very good job with personal protective equipment but you got to be in person. There are other jobs like what you've done or I've done when you do writing or research, you can do that more remotely. I think we're gonna see people going back to work to create that uniqueness and those opportunities. I just don't know how fast it's going to come. I don't know how fast it's going to come.

John Hollon  17:19
Well, I told you this was going to go real fast and we are nearing the end here, believe it or not and I have one more question to ask. And it's one that we ask all of our guests. Here at the TalentX Podcast, we wholeheartedly believe everybody should have a job that they love. One that they're really passionate about. So Dave, what do you love and what are you passionate about that you do?

Dave Ulrich  17:42
Oh, that's so easy. I love learning. I love ideas with impact. So my passion is to wake up at one o'clock in the morning. By the way, I've said to my wife, and this doesn't go over very well. My idea friends are the best friends I have. And she says I thought I was a best friend after 45 years. I say, well, you're good second. I love my idea friends, they put me to bed at night, they wake me up at night, they get me up in the morning, and to say what's an idea that will then have an impact and help other people. One of my great joys is when when the ideas that I've worked with and tried to make sense out of from problems and challenges I see other people absorb, and they start making them their ideas, I actually find that delightful. 

The line that I love to use and my wife and I are passionate is: good adults and good leaders in my world invest in the next generation. Your job as a parent is to build the next generation and to some extent that's your children, your grandchildren, your progeny. But to be honest, the next generation is also the ideas we create. And I think we should be thrilled that we create ideas and services and products that the next generation will use and I know John, you've done that. I have followed your career for so long you're constantly in the process of distilling and sorting, and shaping ideas that will affect the next generation. So I love to learn and I love to learn about new things that have an impact that shape next generation thinking - that's my passion.

John Hollon  19:15
Well, that's a great answer and a great way to end and Dave, I listen to you and heard you speak and talk many, many times and I always learn something from it and I did today as well. So thank you for taking the time to be with us here. It's been a great conversation. You've been generous with your time and we really appreciate you being here.

Dave Ulrich  19:37
Anytime, john, you're on the inside of my tent, and I think we share those experiences. Thank you.

John Hollon  19:43
Great. By the way, I get your Christmas letter too, which I love.

Dave Ulrich  19:48
Seat 2A, it's no longer my address.

John Hollon  19:51
That's right. So for the TalentX Podcast and Fuel50 this is John Hollon. Thanks for listening.