Reinventing HR: Why Dave Ulrich Thinks It’s Time

Regarded as “the father of modern HR,” Dave Ulrich says it’s time to “reinvent” human resources in a way that lives up to its potential, helping organizations succeed at a time of rapid change.

HR Is Not About HR

“HR is not about HR,” he said in an interview with the Geeks, Geezers, & Googlization podcast’s last 2021 episode. “HR is no longer just about personnel administration or managing employee confidence. HR is about helping your organization compete and succeed in the marketplace,” he added.

Who is Dave Ulrich

Ulrich, ranked as a top 5 coach by Forbes and the #1 management guru by Business Week, is known for decades of influential work on talent management and organizational development. He has authored and co-authored more than 30 books on the topic, helping transform the talent management industry from a back-office operation to a critical part of an organization’s competitive strategy.

More Than Employee Wellbeing and Compliance

Ulrich is critical of the view that HR is all about employee wellbeing and compliance, saying that talent management, as a crucial enabler of business strategy, should be at the forefront of an organization’s thinking.

“I find some HR people saying it’s all about people,” he said, “Unless the employee wellbeing leads to a customer experience that creates value for the customer, there is no workplace.”

What should HR be about?

 According to Ulrich, HR should be about the following three things

Talent: Do you have the right talent in the right place?

Organization: What culture are your employees living in every day?

Leadership: Do you have the leadership talent you need to succeed during these disruptive times?


“If you are not at the table, then you don’t belong in HR,” said Ulrich.

 The Covid-19 pandemic has made it more evident than ever that talent management should be a top concern for organizations. Ulrich says talent management must be about anticipating and preparing for interruptions and disruptions, something the highly contagious virus has made abundantly clear.


“One of the things that I find disconcerting is when people say I know the new normal,” he said. “And I go: ‘Wow! You must be rich. You bought Google, Amazon, and Tesla stocks a year ago.’ An [then] they say, ‘no, I didn’t.’ And I say, [then] don’t tell me, ‘You know the new normal.”


In these uncertain times, Ulrich argues the three aspects of talent management mentioned above, talent, organization, leadership – which he also calls “human capability,” are critical to an organization’s success. Whether it’s preparing for a pandemic, wildfires, political unrest, social disruptions, talent management, talent acquisition, and talent retention can’t take a back seat. These events are our new normal and must be top priorities.


In a recent study titled, “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?,” Microsoft found that more than 73 percent  of global workers want to maintain their flexible remote work options even beyond the pandemic. What does this mean for the future of talent management?

“Hybrid work is about where we work and how we work,” he said.

 “Where we work and how we work to me doesn’t matter very much… [It’s] why are you working? To create value for a customer outside the company. How are you working? I don’t care if it’s through technology or however it is. What are you doing to create value for a customer and an investor in a community outside?” he added.

 “HR is not about HR, HR is not about our HR function, [It] is not about our HR confidence. HR is about helping your organization compete and succeed in the marketplace” (Ulrich, 00:08:31)

“If the organization doesn’t succeed in the marketplace, there is no workplace”(Ulrich, 00:08:45)

“When HR is at that ethical table whatever that is, what do we contribute? The right people, the right organization and the right leadership all three become essential” (Ulrich, 00:10:26)

“In HR when we start from the outside in, what do we want to be known for that shapes are people… that shapes our leadership brand” (Ulrich, 00:16:36)

“Talent acquisition is the most critical issue… right behind that is the employee experience those seem to be driving those five outcomes” (Ulrich, 00:17:40)

“Where we work and how we work to me doesn’t matter so much. I think the question why work and what we work on does matter” (Ulrich, 00:27:14)

“The boundary of work is not a place… the boundary of work are the values we create for our customer, our investors in our communities through the way we treat our employees. (Ulrich, 00:28:06)

“One of my tests of a leader is a simple one: does the employee leave the interaction with a leader feeling better or worse about him or herself.” (Uhlrich, 00:36:12)

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