Shane Twomey, Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Organisation Dynamics and member of the CIPD Ireland National Committee, reviews David Ulrich’s latest book Victory through organization: why the war for talent is failing your company and what you can do about it (2017, co-authored by David Kryscynski, Dave Ulrich, Wayne Brockbank, and Mike Ulrich).

Victory through organization:  why the war for talent is failing your company and what you can do about it

HR is not about HR. HR begins and ends with the business

In Victory through organization1, Dave Ulrich (along with David Kryscynski, Mike Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank) continues his journey exploring how HR departments can assist organisations gain, and sustains, competitive advantage. One of the seminal writers in the HR world, Ulrich, along with his colleagues, has conducted groundbreaking research culminating in books such as The HR championThe Why of work and The HR scorecard. Above all, Ulrich is known for proposing the HR value proposition 2 where HR is organised into shared services, centers of expertise, and business partners. In this book, Ulrich shows how the HR department has up to four times the impact on business results as individual HR professionals.

Why organisations matter

Ulrich advances that, although approximately 30 to 40% of board of director time is spent on organisation and people issues, the focus on the war for talent has failed most companies. The role of the HR department has to evolve beyond isolated activities such as managing the flow of people through the organisation to better matching these people (and their talents) to the right organisation capabilities. Building on his previous research, from over 30 years, and data from 32,000 respondents, Ulrich states that HR departments matters now more than ever because both the HR Department and the business are focused on the same outcome – how do we get people aligned to achieve business needs. Some of his key messages include:

  • The war for talent is often seen as an end unto itself whereas it is only a means to an end.
  • It is how talent is organised that will make the fundamental difference to the success of the business.
  • The mission of the HR Department is to 'create and sustain organizational capability that promotes high performance'.
  • The most powerful way that HR Department can influence the organisation is through 'the logic of organisational capability'.

Ulrich proposes four steps that organisations should take to ensure that they are in the best position to fulfill their fundamental purpose as required by their customers and shareholders:

  • Step 1: Defining the required organisational capabilities
    Ensuring the organisation has the necessary current and future capabilities to better need the requirements of the market than its competitors.

  • Step 2: Building technical competencies
    Identifying, harnessing and using those technical competencies that are core to the sector the organisation operates within.

  • Step 3: Specify cultural capabilities
    Creating the cultural capabilities necessary to ensure the appropriate employee behaviours as well as the required customer perception about those behaviours.

  • Step 4: Implement organisation practices
    Reviewing which organisation practices – from staffing and leadership to reward and structures – will have the greatest impact and can be redesigned to achieve the previous steps.

In all the book takes the reader through a series of chapters on how HR departments can achieve this Victory at both organization and individual level. This book is an essential read for both HR professionals and business leaders who wish to understand how HR Departments must evolve to fully realise their role in achieving business results.

1 Ulrich, D, Kryscynski, D, Ulrich, M & Brockbank, W (2017)  Victory through organization: why the war for talent is failing your company and what you can do about it. McGraw Hill Education.

2 Ulrich, D. and Brockbank, W. (2005) The HR value proposition. Harvard Business School Press

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