One day with Dave Ulrich at the IIRME 2012 Middle East HR Summit

Dave Ulrich

So… My friends from IIRME organised the 2012 Middle East HR Summit and Expo in Dubai last week.

It was by far the largest HR event in the Middle East, with a few hundred delegates from all over the region attending the conference.

Unfortunately, other commitments prevented me from attending, but 2 of my team members were lucky to participate in the highlight of the conference : a full day with Dave Ulrich, the HR guru.

Globally recognised author, thought leader and professor Ulrich presented the content of his latest book, covering HR competencies and also the concept of “outside/in” HR.

He used an analogy that stuck with my friends. Here is how I understood it.

Often, HR is self-centered when designing systems and processes for the company : “best practices”, professional-HR policies that are done by comparing to what’s done by other HR departments. So HR looks into the mirror and sees itself when it designs its solutions. But instead of looking at a mirror, HR should look through the window and at the outside world to understand what needs to be done.

The idea is to focus on the customer and ask him how he would like the company to be and act. We’re talking about the company customer here, not the “internal customer” that we have all become accustomed to refer to.

For example, as HR did at Delta Airlines, you should accompany your best sales people in the meeting where they are closing the deal with the most important or most typical customer, the customer that your company wants more of. Introduce yourself at the end of the meeting and say that you are “the person in charge of hiring these sales people, and what do you like about them and how would you like them to behave, because we would like to get 95% of your business and therefore we need to make you satisfied and it is my role as HR to ensure that you are happy by recruiting the kind of people that you want to interact with”.

Then listen to the answer, and translate those into competencies for hiring, for training purposes, for 360 assessments etc. Figure out how to do performance appraisals, and how to recognise and reward the people who exhibit those behaviours and skills so as to encourage others to adopt them too. Yes – that’s where Compensation pros enter in the picture πŸ™‚

Two examples of Outside-In HR practices :

  1. Performance Management : Do our standards for effective performance  match customer expectations ?
  2. Rewards : Do we involve our customers (suppliers or investors) in allocating rewards ?

I have to say that the idea of Outside-In HR has some appeal and makes sense in many ways. However, I also believe that this concept can’t be applied by HR from one day to the next.

In the GCC for example, many local companies still operate HR mainly as a transaction-focused department, a “paper-pusher” or administrator. Moving to the Outside-In approach requires to move up the value ladder before you embark on those changes, otherwise you will face many challenges in getting buy-in from your internal customers : the management of the organisation, and its employees.

Also, the second example above (involving customers in allocating rewards) requires a culture of openness and communication – and of letting-go – that is not very common in a region where face-saving, official consensus and apparent equality are important social behaviours.

Finally, I will take this opportunity to say hi to fellow blogger Jon Ingham of Strategic HCM. He delivered a keynote on social media and a masterclass on HR strategy and scorecard at the Summit, and we met for the first time during his visit. He was kind enough to share some of his experiences as HR blogger, and I really appreciate his feedback and encouragement – much needed in a region where so few HR pros put their thoughts into blogs or articles ! So I’d like to encourage you to visit Strategic HCM and subscribe to the blog.


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