A New Mandate for Human Resources by Dave Ulrich

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A New Mandate for
Human Resources

by Dave Ulrich

Harvard Business Review
Reprint 98111

S

h ould we do away with HR? In recent years,
a number of people who study and write about
business – along with many who run businesses – have been debating that question. The debate arises out of serious and widespread doubts about HR’s contribution to organizational performance. 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 necessary. The competitive forces that managers face today and will continue to confront in the future
demand organizational excellence. The efforts to
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achieve such excellence – through a focus on learning, 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 organizational 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 compensation, but on outcomes. HR should not be defined by what it does but by what it delivers – results that enrich the organization’s value to customers, investors, and employees. More specifically, HR can help deliver organizational excellence in the following four ways: ! First, HR should become a partner with senior

and line managers in strategy execution, helping to
ARTWORK BY MICHAEL WOLOSCHINOW

HR should be defined not by what
it does but by what it delivers.

A New
Mandate
for
Human
Resources
by Dave Ulrich
move planning from the conference room to the
marketplace.
! Second, it should become an expert in the way
work is organized and executed, delivering administrative efficiency to ensure that costs are reduced while quality is maintained.
! Third, it should become a champion for employees, vigorously representing their concerns to senior management and at the same time working to increase employee contribution; that is, employees’ commitment to the organization and their ability

to deliver results.
! And finally, HR should become an agent of continuous 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 companies today, HR is sanctioned mainly to play

policy police and regulatory watchdog. It handles
the paperwork involved in hiring and firing, manages the bureaucratic aspects of benefits, and administers compensation decisions made by others. When it is more empowered by senior management, it might oversee recruiting, manage training and development programs, or design initiatives to

increase workplace diversity. But the fact remains:
the activities of HR appear to be – and often are –
disconnected from the real work of the organization. The new agenda, however, would mean that every one of HR’s activities would in some concrete
way help the company better serve its customers
or otherwise increase shareholder value.
Can HR transform itself alone? Absolutely not.
In fact, the primary responsibility for transforming
the role of HR belongs to the CEO and to every line
manager who must achieve business goals. The reason? Line managers have ultimate responsibility

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