HR Transformation: A book review by Bob Morris

HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside In
Dave Ulrich, Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nym
McGraw-Hill (2009)

In an uncommonly informative Introduction, the authors assert, “Our point is that HR professionals often focus entirely in the function of HR rather than externally on what customers and investors need HR to deliver. If HR professionals are to truly serve as business partners, then their goals must be the goals of the business. Transforming HR professionals into business partners isn’t an end in and of itself; it’s the means to a strategic, business-oriented end.” Those decision-makers who have that specific objective would be well-advised to absorb and digest the material in this book.

Written in collaboration with Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nyman, Ulrich and his RBL associates offer what they characterize as “a handbook for HR transformation” in which they synthesize and summarize everything they have learned about it. Specifically, what a transformation is and what it requires; what it isn’t; what works, what doesn’t, and why; how to plan it; how to mobilize the resources needed (especially people); how to launch it; how to measure progress throughout the transformation initiatives; and how to apply the lessons learned to sustain a constant refinement of what HR is and does to increase its impact and value.

Here is a brief excerpt from the Introduction: “Simply stated, we propose that the biggest challenge for HR professionals today is to help their respective organizations succeed.” Obviously, to accomplish this worthy objective, the authors correctly assert that there are certain factors that must be present. Here are three:

1. It is imperative that the HR professionals themselves recognize the authenticity of this challenge and not only accept but embrace it as a unique opportunity for their own development but also for what the transformation will enable their organization to accomplish.

2. It is even more important that senior managers recognize the need for the transformation and commit to its completion whatever resources that may require. They must also be patient. Change initiatives worthy of the name are messy, complicated, unpredictable, and sometimes stalled temporarily. The change agents need and deserve senior management’s full support.

3. There must be a game plan for the transformation process and I think the one that the authors provide in this book is eminently worthy of careful consideration because it is cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective. What I like about it is that it combines some of the best features of Six Sigma and Lean methodologies without limiting the options of those who select it. In fact, the authors provide invaluable advice with regard to how to modify the four-phase model to ensure that it fully accommodates the needs, interest, and objectives of the given organization.

Readers will especially appreciate the authors’ skillful use of various reader-friendly devices that include “Tools,” “Tables,” “Figures,” and dozens of checklists that facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points. In the Appendix (all by itself worth far more than the cost of the book), the authors provide (Pages 217-222) an inventory of all the tools that have been inserted throughout their narrative.


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