Dave Ulrich – Father of Modern Human Resource

I was
reading Business Times today and in the Raffles Conversation, an article caught
my attention. I always love to read about Biography of successful people and
hear what they have to say. So in this article, I unearthed another guy that I
kind of admire judging from what he said. He is “David Olson Ulrich (born 1953)
– the Father of Modern HR and also RBL Group, Co-founder and Professor, Ross
School of Business, University of Michigan.
You can read
more about him here.

Let’s hear
what he has to say, extracted from Business Times’ Raffles Conversation section. 
About Employees
“The most strategic
HR tactic is to place your worst performing employee in your competitor, and
tell that employee to keep doing what they are doing.”
The most
important question “are you retaining your best employees?”
Impact Vs Growth
decided that growth is not what we’re after. We want to have impact. And (40
partners) is a number we can manage right now, and it seems to work.”
“RBL doesn’t
have to exist. If we didn’t exist as a company, the world will go on –
Singapore would produce products, America would produce enemies. The reason we
exist is very simple: to help our clients be more successful. (We exist to be
at the forefront of) thought leadership, and to ask: “what are some ways of
thinking that will help the companies that we serve better serve their clients?’”
The liability of Success
“…that when
you are successful, you grow and you succeeded and you think that what got you
success in the past will get you success in future. That’s not always true.”
Half Life of Knowledge
“50 percent
of what you know is out of date. For eg I’m a professor, I give presentations with
handouts. My rule of thumb is every 2.5 to 3 years, I should have 50% new
material. Because if I am not re-generating fresh ideas, then I am teaching
what was appropriate for the past and not the future.”
“When you
are successful, you tend to not push yourself to do new things.” The ultimate
price of such laurel-resting, as many now-defunct firms know, is complete
“The facts
speak for themselves. According to a research by American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), only 12.2% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 were still in the list
in 2014.”
Good Leaders
“But good
leaders help their employees to recognize the causes for the change. They don’t
impose change, but engage employees in the change; they help employees discover
the changes are actually to their benefit.”
“If you
choose to engage with the changes around you, then obviously you’ll be more
successful and have more opportunities. But if you can’t adapt to the changes,
we’re not going to be able to keep you – not because I say so but because that’s
what the market requires.”
The 20-60-20 rule
“It’s fair
to say that in almost any profession, 20% are exceptional, 20% are terrible,
and 60% are in the middle. So if someone wants to find bad HR departments, I
can lead you right to them. But I can also lead you to the good ones as well.”
“what I’m
actually most interested is neither extreme. The good people don’t need my
help, and the bad people won’t take my help. It’s the middle 60% that I really
want to help.”
HR is not About HR
“HR is not
about HR – it’s about the business. When a HR person meets with a business
leader, their 1st question should be: ‘How do we win at this
business – how to we better serve our customers, how do we make profit for
“Once we
get those criteria laid out then we say; ‘If we’re going to win this business
by getting more revenue from customers – by share of wallet, stomach, home, or
whatever it is – what does that mean for our people? What kind of people do we
need to hire, what kind of skills our leaders need?’”
“If we can
start a HR discussion by the business, then a HR department is the enabler of
delivering business results. What I tell business leaders that, they say: ‘Oh,
HR is here to help me do my job better.’ And that is absolutely right.”
The Positive Approach of Advisory
‘Lots of
people who do advisory say” ‘You’re wrong.’ What I love to say now is” ‘Let me
show you how you can do better.’ Some prophets tell people they are going to hell,
other prophets tell people how to get to heaven. I’d rather be the prophet that
tells people how to get to heaven, because I think that’s positive approach
change, rather than “If you don’t change, you’re in trouble.”

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4 thoughts on “Dave Ulrich – Father of Modern Human Resource

  1. That seems to be an interesting chap with accurate views.

    In context with "Half-life of Knowledge" I recently read a very true paper.

    It stated that "People are coming to rely more and more on search engines rather than their own memory. When the study was released, many people fretted about this and how it is hurting our brains and making us dumber."

    While this is certainly a common argument and so true for me, I took away the opposite conclusion. Paradoxically, by not relying on our own memories, we become more likely to be up-to-date in our facts, because the newest knowledge is more likely to be online than in our own heads.

    And isn't that a good thing?

    1. Hi Andy,

      Refreshing philosophical views about search engines keeping us up to date.

      It lead me to wonder maybe 50% of our brain memory power should store the key principles that does not change with time.

      For e.g, Using my own blog as an e.g. I reckon the principles of 1) know urself 2) invest in urself and 3) find ur passion will in general not vary with time.

      Then the other half of the brain, should always be keeping up to date in our facts or new knowledge.

      If u do not want ur brain to be dumber and also do not feel like remembering and prefer search engine, maybe can try this:

      If u r right handed, try brushing ur teeth for the next few months using ur left hand.

  2. Seldom Finance blogs talked about HR. Interesting. In Singapore, HR is busy generating papers. Business HR are plenty, but could be underdeveloped for most?

    People usually associate salary, benefit, recruitment and performance appraisal with HR. They seldom think of hey, HR is an enabler to achieve my business objective!

    Good read.

    1. Hi FD,

      My apologies for putting HR topic here. Thanks for continue reading.

      Human resource, human resource!…as the word suggest is "about people"!

      And undoubtedly, people are the enablers of business.

      Most companies of today stereotyped HR to be more like an administrative function!

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