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Reporting on 2017 HR Resolutions and Crafting 2018

Dave Ulrich /

Last year I made 4 HR resolutions: to be more comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, to deliver business value, to learn, and to be less defensive. Most resolutions dwindle and dissipate because they lack accountability. So, let me be accountable to myself, and others.

Resolution 1: Accepting and managing paradox 

I have become ever more comfortable with the inevitability and ambiguity associated with paradox. Navigating paradox skills may be defined and improved. The 2017 paradoxes of long vs. short term; individual vs. organization; top/down vs. bottom up; and structured vs. unstructured information will be coupled in 2018 with protecting rights of the accuser and accused; defining leaders by policy and personal style; managing personal opinion and public transparency. 

Resolution 2: Delivering business value from HR 

I am more convinced than ever that HR is not about HR but about the business. We have ever better insights into the competencies HR professionals should master to deliver business value. And, HR professionals have made enormous progress over the last 30 years in their ability to deliver business value. We have better understanding of the HR disruptions that will shape how HR adds value.

Resolution 3: Learning

I continue to see HR having business impact on many stakeholders through innovations in organization, leadership, talent, and HR.

In the organization space, organization matters more than individuals in delivering business results.  In our research, we have learned that organization had four times the impact on business results than individual talent.  For example, this year, culture has continued to gain attention (e.g., Uber and Amazon cultures and cover stories in Harvard Business Review). I have learned that culture is not enough, organizations have to have the right culture which means linking internal culture to external firm brand. In addition, organization boundaries are less about who we are as an independent organization to who we are as part of an eco system or network.  Firms with dramatically increasing market value (Tencent, Alibaba, Apple, and Amazon) increasing create eco systems redefine organization boundaries. Organization capabilities are moving from inside organization to the eco system

In the leadership space, I have learned that leadership both at a personal and institutional level is often about managing expectationsturning curiosity into creativitymoving onbeing an anthropologist, becoming great bosses, and navigating paradox. In addition, we are constantly trying to update our Leadership Code model and identify the skills for the leader in today’s changing world. 

In the individual talent space, I have learned that talent matters to all stakeholders, not only inside an organization but outside with customers and investors. Winning the war for talentwill require stronger focus on organization than just investing in individuals. 

In the HR space, digital and technology are the new shiny HR objects. In the past, our field has looked at millennials and analytics through funhouse mirrors that distort reality. These carnival lens’ seem to imply that a single issue is all that there is to HR. Then, reality sets in and the shiny object becomes an integral, but not sole part of an overall HR agenda. Digitalization is obviously critical in today’s technology enabled world, but we need to learn how to do a digital audit to fit digital work into an overall HR agenda. I have learned to discern digital initiatives and to move from digital HR being about efficiency and innovation of existing HR practices to innovation and connection. 

Even further in the HR space, in a world of increased uncertainty and change, aspiring HR professionals are emotional first responders who help organizations and people not only survive, but thrive.  I am ever more proud to be part of an HR community where HR professionals are making progress in helping others be effective.

Resolution 4: Becoming less defensive

Oops, I have not done so well on being less defensive. When people misrepresent the work we have done, then attack it, I have not been generous or kind enough. Someone essentially said, “your work is wrong, HR should be focused on the business” (Huh? That is 30 years of our work). Someone else said, “your work is not evolving” (Huh, see the above for some of the 2017 learnings). Yet another said, “I disagree with your HR research and my personal opinion means more than your 32,000 data points” (Huh?). I need to re-resolve to respond by letting go, have more understanding, and move on. 

So, what are my HR resolutions for 2018?

Year after year, I believe that the best is yet to come for HR. I resolve to help create that ever better state through learning about talent, organization, leadership, and HR

For the individual (talent) focus, I want to learn even more about meaning. I sense that the loneliness epidemic will reemerge as an organization agenda. I resolve to help individuals find a sense of personal belonging in their personal, family, work, and community settings. 

For the organization focus, I want to better understand how organizations operate across boundaries. I resolve to continue to work with Professor Arthur Yeung to unravel how organizations can become market oriented ecosystem where they succeed by building capabilities within the network more than just the individual firm. 

For the leadership focus, I want to identify and flesh out the key requirements of emerging leaders and how to upgrade them. We call this Leadership Code 2.0.  We have identified the emerging skills of successful leaders and I resolve to offer specific guidance on these leadership skills.

For the HR profession focus, I want to help HR professionals deliver even more value by discerning the impact of HR in a new setting and how it can be transferred. Justin Allen and I have defined 9 roles of a leadership capital partner in private equity. I resolve to flesh out these roles and transfer those insights into the broader HR community.

I should also make personal resolutions about losing weight, exercising more, being less defensive, attending better to children and grandchildren, demonstrating my faith with more patience and verve, learning how to use social media, being more positive, and on and on. Maybe next year!

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