Dave Ulrich

  • The World’s Most Influential HR Thinker


Ranked as the number one management guru by Business Week, profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 creative people in business, a top five coach in Forbes, and recognized on Thinkers50 Hall of Fame as one of the world’s leading business thinkers, Dave Ulrich has a passion for ideas with impact. Dave and his colleagues at the RBL Group (www.rbl.net) have 30 years of experience in helping organizations and individuals succeed through HR practices in talent, leadership, and organization.  They offer proven workshops, seminars, and consulting service to create a better future.

Read a quick interview with Dave Ulrich on his views and tips in current world situation touched by COVID-19 pandemic and how it reflects among leaders and impact our work life.

An Interview with Dave

The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted the entire world in ways none of us have experienced before.  The personal and organizational implications vary dramatically by setting and circumstance.  But there are some general trends that affect almost everyone: individuals and organizations are grappling with how to replace fear with hope, be realistic and optimistic, and react to today’s constraints and envision tomorrow’s ideals.  I have identified 10 skills that apply to both individuals in their personal lives and organizations as they try to compete that become opportunities in this crisis:

The ten tips are:

  1. Learn always
  2. Anticipate the stages of the COVID-19 virus
  3. Make working at home work
  4. Distance socially but don’t isolate
  5. Live your values
  6. Navigate paradox
  7. Tolerate uncertainty
  8. Look back to be resilient; Move forward to determine success
  9. Seek guidance
  10. Take care of yourself

Clearly, these are not all of the skills that could grow in this crisis, but they offer business leaders, HR professionals, and individual employees insights that may positively impact their personal and professional lives.

In the face of dramatic contextual jolts, HR deliverables of talent, leadership, and organization become even more pivotal.  For talent (workforce, employees, people), HR provides psychological safety in the face of uncertainty, positive and empathic work experiences, and increased employee sentiment through believe (meaning and purpose), become (learn and grow) and belong (sense of community).  HR helps leaders make bold decisions, instill confidence with all stakeholders, and model behaviors that employees should follow.  HR also helps organizations enact and live espoused values, institutionalize the “right” culture, and reinvent business models to create the future.

HR’s role in a crisis is ever more critical because the stress of a crisis magnifies actions and creates lingering memories. In our research and experience, we found that HR’s greatest contribution to business and personal success comes from navigating paradox.  Paradox means continually balancing two extremes, not merely managing to one agenda such as care for individual AND attend to the organization, do triage now and plan for what’s next, make decisions alone and enable others to become decision makers.

By navigating these paradoxes, HR helps business leaders deliver talent, organization, and leadership so that all stakeholders (employees, customers, investors, communities) live beyond today’s crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the emerging digital agenda.  A digital business agenda helps any organization access and turn data into information, use that digital information to make better choices, and ultimately add more value to the firm for all stakeholders. In recent years, HR professionals have become increasingly focused on adding value through strategic work more than administrative work. To further this strategic HR focus, we have identified five actions HR professionals can pursue to help make a digital business agenda happen.

  1. Build a business case. For a digital business agenda to be accepted, employees need to have a shared awareness of and need for digital information that improves decision-making. HR wants to help employees recognize the dramatic implications of technology advances that come from accessing and using digital information
  2. Facilitate a Digital Business Team. Some firms have mistakenly made the “IT” function the steward of the digital business agenda. Building an overall digital business agenda requires a cross-functional team because each business function accesses information to make better overall business decisions.
  3. Articulate Digital Business Outcomes. The digital team should ensure that key3. outcomes are defined, tracked, and woven into an accountability system. HR can lead the facilitation of these outcomes since HR professionals have skills in performance management, which requires clear expectations and outcomes.
  4. Audit Current Digital State. A digital business audit to set a baseline for the use of digital information for business results and also assess the extent to which digital information is used in the multiple functions of a business to improve decision-making. HR professionals can help the digital business team form an audit by selecting audit questions and then collecting data from multiple perspectives (like a 360).
  5. Craft and Implement Digital Business Plan. The fifth and final action in creating a digital business agenda is to prepare a digital business plan. This plan, prepared by the digital business team, turns awareness into desired outcomes.

No one could have anticipated or fully prepared for this crisis.   There are four stages of this crisis that can be articulated, following the logic of an accident.

Phase 1:  Accident with First Aid/First Responder.  An accident happens requiring immediate first aid and emergency triage.  Emotions are high, the environment is chaotic and confusing, and very first responders react quickly mostly on instinct more than training to do damage control, “stop the bleeding,” and make the injured comfortable. This has been the state of the pandemic as it affects our lives..

Phase 2:  Ambulance with Transition.  An ambulance with paramedics arrives to transport the accident victim.  While in the ambulance transition state, the paramedics give the injured emotional support (“you are going to be ok”), do more diagnoses (“why are you bleeding?”), and alert others to prepare to receive the injured.  In this pandemic crisis, organizations transition into emotional well being period, doing diagnoses as to what has to be done to move ahead, and sourcing support.

Phase 3:  Hospital with Expert Care.  The accident victim enters the hospital and is now in the hands of experts who do more thorough diagnostic and offer treatment solutions to help the injured heal.  In the virus pandemic, organizations require wise investments around processes like customer interface, strategic choices, resource allocation, culture, and talent to offer solutions for organizations and individuals.

Phase 4: Home to Embed a New Normal.  The accident victim returns home to a new normal that might mean accepting a new identity (e.g., if injured loses a limb) or to adapt insights from the accident to their current circumstances (e.g., to better care for their body).  The “new normal” from this virus (perhaps months away) may include identity and insights that vary by organization and personal circumstance.

In each of these four phases, the HR issues of talent (workforce, people), organization (workplace, culture), and leadership (at all levels) become levers for helping move through that stage.

About Dave Ulrich:

David Olson Ulrich is a university professor, author, speaker, management coach, and management consultant. Ulrich is a professor of business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and co-founder of The RBL Group. With his colleagues, he has written over 30 books that have shaped the HR profession, defined organizations as capabilities, and shown the impact of leadership on customers and investors. Ulrich served on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller for 17 years, is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources, and served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Virginia University for 9 years.

Dave Ulrich has been ranked the #1 Management Educator & Guru by BusinessWeek, selected by Fast Company as one of the 10 most innovative and creative leaders, is one of 21 people in the Thinker’s Fifty Hall of Fame, and named the most influential thinker in HR of the decade by HR magazine.