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At the beginning of the month, Dave Ulrich was interviewed by Meg Peppin at the HR Summit 2015. If you’ve not heard about it, you can read more here.

Dave Ulrich

Dave believes that, now we’ve mastered the ability to link our HR strategy to the internal business strategy, we should be linking to the external context – seeing ‘customers’ as the customers of HR, rather than employees being the customers of HR.

I love this because surely, of course, what we do with the people in our businesses has to be with the aim of improving the experience for our customers because, as we all know, happy customers = sustainable business. Whether your customer is a manufacturer, distributor or a high street customer, the relationships your team builds with these people are the relationships which mean make or break. And not even just that. How does your accounts team interact with other external accounts teams? How do your team interact with the phone / IT / cleaning / …etc.. contacts?

A previous role I had was exactly this stuff. Establish the customer needs and then work that backwards into what we need of our people – therefore how will we recruit for that, develop for that, reward for that and enable managers to support that.

And it was brilliant! And it was challenging.

It was brilliant because I desperately care about customers having a great experience and so the chance to understand the market, the future trends and to commission research into customer needs to improve that experience was fantastic and fascinating.

And it was challenging. The commercial team had already commissioned research, and had their answers. But these were subtly and importantly different to those which we needed for HR. The commercial teams were interested in the products people used, how they used them, the mix of brands they bought and, yes, a bit about their buying experience. But buying experience from the angle of understanding the purchase habits and product connections.

From the people side, we only really cared about the buying experience, from the perspective of interactions with colleagues for information and advice; understanding where advice could have the biggest impact on creating that great experience.

What happened next was a joining-up, stitching-together process between the different perspectives, with a bit of jostling along the way, and all the while balancing the commercial reality, until we created a strategy within which the people stuff was one key part.

So yes to HR looking external. Be knowledgeable about the market your business operates in so you can have good, healthy debates with those you work alongside in ‘the business’.

And I don’t believe you need to first be expert at aligning to the internal strategy before making this leap to looking external. From my own experience, what HR needs to know to bring completeness to the strategy is subtly but importantly different to what other parts of the business need, so aligning to the internal strategy could mean you’re missing some useful insights.

So build credibility first by being externally-savvy. Then demonstrate the tangible difference HR can make by bringing that additional dimension which turns the strategy into a full-colour 4D picture.

And the ideal? Do it together. Be in the conversation early to have the people considerations in the mix from the start so that you can travel the journey together.

And of course it won’t be perfect from the start. But start. Take a step and start the journey. And enjoy!

P.S. – In hindsight with the work I was in, I can see that there was a lack of healthy conflict and I can see that we had moments when we were all slightly paralyzed by insights and research findings, so remember the sage words of Patrick Lencioni to bring that good conflict which comes from trust, and to sometimes just make a bold decision, even if it turns out to be a wrong one, because it’s better than waffling towards nowhere. But now I’m moving into a whole other leadership and team effectiveness conversation which must be left for another day……

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