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A New Mandate for Human Resources
by Dave Ulrich
Harvard Business Review
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hould we do away with HR? In recent years, a number of people who study and write about business - along with many who run busi-
nesses - have been debating that question. The de- bate arises out of serious and widespread doubts about HR's contribution to organizational perfor- mance. And as much as I like HR people - I have been working in the field as a researcher, professor, and consultant for 20 years - I must agree that there is good reason for HR's beleaguered reputation. It is often ineffective, incompetent, and costly; in a phrase, it is value sapping. Indeed, if HR were to remain configured as it is today in many companies, I would have to answer the question above with a resounding "Yes - abolish the thing!"
But the truth is, HR has never been more neces- sary. The competitive forces that managers face today and will continue to confront in the future demand organizational excellence. The efforts to
achieve such excellence - through a focus on learn- ing, quality, teamwork, and reengineering - are driven by the way organizations get things done and how they treat their people. Those are fundamental HR issues. To state it plainly: achieving organiza- tional excellence must be the work of HR.
The question for senior managers, then, is not Should we do away with HR? but What should we do with HR? The answer is: create an entirely new role and agenda for the field that focuses it not on traditional HR activities, such as staffing and com- pensation, but on outcomes. HR should not be de- fined by what it does but by what it delivers - results that enrich the organization's value to cus- tomers, investors, and employees.
More specifically, HR can help deliver organiza- tional excellence in the following four ways: ! First, HR should become a partner with senior and line managers in strategy execution, helping to
124 ARTWORK BY MICHAEL WOLOSCHINOW
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move planning from the conference room to the marketplace. ! Second, it should become an expert in the way work is organized and executed, delivering admin- istrative efficiency to ensure that costs are reduced while quality is maintained. ! Third, it should become a champion for employ- ees, vigorously representing their concerns to senior management and at the same time working to in- crease employee contribution; that is, employees' commitment to the organization and their ability to deliver results. ! And finally, HR should become an agent of con- tinuous transformation, shaping processes and a culture that together improve an organization's capacity for change.
Make no mistake: this new agenda for HR is a radical departure from the status quo. In most com- panies today, HR is sanctioned mainly to play
policy police and regulatory watchdog. It handles the paperwork involved in hiring and firing, man- ages the bureaucratic aspects of benefits, and ad-...