Q&A with HR Tech Influencer: Dave Ulrich

The speaker, author and professor shares his outlook on the pandemic's impact on HR tech.
By: | August 19, 2020 • 3 min read

The role of HR leaders has never been more important, as organizations struggle to keep up with near-daily changes to the world of work ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic and other global challenges. With such a tall order for HR leaders, it’s beneficial to look to industry experts for their experience and guidance. Earlier this year, HRE and the HR Tech Conference unveiled the second edition of the Top 100 HR Tech Influencers, comprised of HR, business and technology leaders whose insights are needed now more than ever.

Related: Q&A with HR Tech Influencer Zoë Harte

Influencer Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan and a partner at consulting firm The RBL Group. He has written several best-selling business books and was ranked by Business Week as the nation’s top management guru.

Ulrich recently spoke with HRE about the pandemic’s impact on HR and the technology that powers HR innovation.

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HRE: What HR tech trend that was gaining steam before COVID-19 has been most disrupted? What’s replacing it, if anything?

Ulrich: Coming out of the combined crises of the global pandemic, racial strife and economic downturn (for many) is an increased need to rethink organization effectiveness. For years (decades), efforts have been made to describe organization actions—culture maps, best practices, scorecards, dashboards. With the advent of technology and focus on information asymmetry, these descriptions can now be turned into prescriptions that create an “organization guidance system” that informs leaders where to invest in talent, leadership, organization and HR to deliver value to employees, internal customers, investors and outside communities.

HRE: How can HR leaders best evaluate the rapid influx of post-pandemic tools that is flooding the market?

Dave Ulrich

Ulrich: Here are some simple questions to filter the hundreds of new HR-related apps: 1. Focus outside in: To what extent does this new digital technology connect its solution to external customers and investors? If the app does not increase value in the marketplace, move on. 2. Build on previous work: Does the new technological innovation build on, complement and extend previous work? Digital innovation with no roots in the past will not likely have fruits in the future. 3. Deliver on strategy and goals: How will the technology enable strategic choices? Technology is a means not an end; it enables strategy.

See also: HR Tech Conference is going virtual

HRE: How do you think the remote work switch will affect employee expectations for workplace technology?

Ulrich: Traditionally, people go “to work,” are “at work” and return “from work.” With this mindset, work has a physical space and place boundary. The emerging boundaries for work may focus less on space and place and more on creating value for key stakeholders. Instead of asking “Where are you working?” leaders may ask, “How does your work create value for our customers?” Creating value for customers, investors and communities outside the organization can be done anywhere, in an office, at home, on an airplane, in a hotel, etc.  The value of creating value for customers may become the focus of work. For example, it is not enough to have a culture based on values; the “right” culture means that the values inside a company create value for customers and investors outside. With work defined by value boundaries, employee actions are not tied to a place, but to value created for customers.