Dave Ulrich‘s work passion has been how to build organization capabilities (systems, processes, cultures) that create value to multiple stakeholders, then to help leaders build intangible value in organizations. Working with over half of the Fortune 200 and with companies throughout the world, he provides seminars, writes books, and coaches leaders to build sustainable organizations by turning customer and investor expectations into personal and organizational actions. He helps leaders move beyond employee engagement to helping employees find real meaning from work. He is a professor of business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and co-founder of The RBL Group. He has written 23 books covering topics in HR and Leadership (the latest is HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside In co-authored with Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nyman); is currently on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller; is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources; and is on the Board of Trustees of Southern Virginia University.
Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., has been a psychologist in private practice in Michigan for over twenty years. She is founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Utah, offering seminar-retreats on abundance. Their work with organizations and individuals intersects at helping people find meaning at work. Dave works to rethink and redefine how organizations work and Wendy works to help individuals rethink and redefine their own lives. At the same time, they are committed to the importance of the organization’s responsibility to shareholders and investors as they respond to external conditions. Her published works include Forgiving Ourselves: Getting Back Up When We Let Ourselves Down and Weakness Is Not Sin: The Liberating Distinction That Awakens Our Strengths.
Dave and Wendy Ulrich are the co-authors of The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win published by McGraw-Hill (June, 2010).
Morris: Before discussing The Why of Work, a few general questions. Here’s the first. When and why did the two of you decide to co-author a book?
Dave and Wendy Ulrich: We like working together. Our kids joke that our family hobby is reorganizing the world, crafting lectures, and preparing talks (welcome to our Sunday dinners). We found that we had interests that overlap. Dave studies how organizations create value for customers and investors. To do this he studies leadership, HR, and organization capabilities. Wendy studies how people change and heal. She runs workshops on personal growth. As we talked, we found that there is a universal need for people to find meaning in their lives and organizations become a universal forum where this can happen. As we pursued this discussion, we found that when leaders are meaning makers, it makes both sense (right thing to do) and cents (economically viable). So, we decided to try to figure out how people make meaning in life. This lead to a multi-year study of how diverse disciplines understand meaning, with a goal of culling diverse literatures for some basic tenets. Then, we applied those principles to leaders to help them become meaning makers.
Morris: What specifically did each of you bring to the collaborative process?
W. Ulrich: As a psychologist I look at the personal side of this issue. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to help people find meaning in some of the hardest and most confusing experiences of their lives so they can heal and move forward, as well as trying to help them create goals and imagine futures that will feel meaningful and hopeful. I try to capture the personal side of the meaning agenda.
D. Ulrich: I have OCD (Organization Compulsive Disorder) and try to figure out how to redesign, reshape, and renew organizations so that they deliver value. When I think of organizations, I think of the capabilities an organization has more than its morphology or structure. The ability of an organization to have a shared purpose and the ability for employees to be productive are critical capabilities for most organizations today.
Morris: To what extent (if any) were there any unexpected problems or complications after you began to work together on the manuscript? If there were, how did you resolve them?
Dave: We have wall-papered together and nothing can be more complicated than that (plus raising three kids). But, we have different writing styles. I like ideas, frameworks, and figures. Wendy likes wordsmithing and saying things in a poetic way. We resolved this by brainstorming ideas, Dave drafting, and Wendy editing for many of the chapters. But we also switched roles for some.
Morris: Of all that you learned from and about each other while writing the book, were any significant surprises?
W. Ulrich: Dave never ceases to amaze me with how quickly he can capture the gist of a complex set of issues and get to the simplicity on the other side of that complexity. He is really gifted with innovating specific, concrete strategies for implementation; he has such broad experience with so many corporations. But I am always a little surprised to realize again and again how genuinely humble he is about learning from others.
D. Ulrich: I like to co-author books to learn from those I write with. While my other co-authors may cringe, Wendy has unique insights and abilities that make her a great co-author. She has enormous instinct for how to frame ideas, to tailor ideas to the heart of a reader, and to make sure we are clear about what we are trying to say.
Morris: Hundreds of thousands of books and an even greater number of articles have been written about how to be an effective executive and yet so many still aren’t. Why?
D. Ulrich: If it were easy, everyone would already get it. Being an effective leader is enormously complex. It requires vision to see a future, dedication to make things happen, sensitivity to people who are quirky at times, and personal confidence without arrogance. In some ways it is amazing we have so many talented executives. It is a rare and unique set of skills.
Morris: In recent years, even the most prestigious graduate schools of business such as Harvard, Kellogg, and Wharton have been severely criticized. In your opinion, what is the one area of business education in which business schools are in greatest need of improvement? Why?
W. Ulrich: I have an MBA from UCLA and appreciate the good training I got there, but years as a psychologist have convinced me that being a leader in business is not just about understanding finance or killer marketing. It is about tapping the enormous energy of human beings who truly believe in what they are doing and want to put their values into action. Leadership is about making meaning, about weaving a story that helps people see how what they do connects with outcomes they care about. I never had a class in meaning-making in my MBA program, but I’ve sure had a lot of clients who were showing up for their jobs, including their senior level executive jobs, without their hearts or their souls in the game. And companies lose when this happens.
D. Ulrich: There is an increasing gap between academic research and business application. Sometimes the incentives for success in the academic world are not consistent with what it takes to run a company. However, I see top business schools working to bridge this gap by respecting executive education, by having more mature students who proactively draw from faculty what they know they need, and by having faculty who are willing to leave their ivory towers for the murky world of business reality. Unfortunately, at other times, business professors have little or not interest or savvy about business issues.
Does design drive innovation or does innovation drive design. The answer is “Yes.” The success of each approach depends almost entirely on what Roberto Verganti characterizes as “radical research” and those who either conduct it or support those who do. In his introductory Letter to the Reader, Verganti explains that this is a book on management. More specifically, “it’s about how to manage innovation that customers do not expect but eventually love. It shows how executives can realize an innovation strategy that leads to products and services that have a radical new meaning: those that convey a completely new reason for customers to buy them. Their meanings are so distinct from those that dominate the market that they might take people by surprise, but they are so inevitable that they convert people and make them passionate.” Or what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba describe as “customer evangelists.”
Verganti calls this strategy “design-driven innovation” because design, in its etymological sense, means “making sense of things.” Therefore, think of design-driven innovation as the R&D process for meanings. This book shows “how companies can manage this process to radically overturn dominant meanings in an industry before their competitors so and therefore rule the competitors.” Throughout his lively narrative, Verganti responds to questions such as these:
1. How to innovate by making sense of things?
2. How to integrate design-driven innovation with an organization’s strategy?
3. How to initiative and then sustain productive interplay between “technology-push” and design-driven innovation?
4. Why do some companies invest in design-driven innovation and others don’t?
Note: Verganti’s comments in response to this question will be of great value to readers now determining whether or not design-driven innovation is appropriate to their organization’s needs, objectives, and resources.
5. What are “interpreters” and what is their role in the design-driven innovation process?
6. How to locate and then attract key interpreters?
7. How can an organization develop its own vision?
8. How to leverage the “seductive power” of the interpreters?
9. When establishing what Verganti calls the “Design-Driven Lab,” where to begin?
10. What is the “key role” of an organization’s senior managers and their influence on the organization’s culture?
However those involved are identified (e.g. “interpreters”) and their functions are defined, whatever a given organization’s goals and resources may be, questions such as these suggest critically important issues that must be addressed by its business leaders. If I understand Verganti’s core thesis, it is that the process by which to do that must itself be design-driven. That is to say, a competitive advantage can be achieved and then sustained only by innovative thinking about innovation. Only then can those who are involved “make sense” of what to do and how to do it for their customers.
The Breakthrough Imperative: How the Best Managers Get Outstanding Results
Mark Gottfredson and Herman Saenz
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside
Dave Ulrich, Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nym
1. What am I known for? (IDENTITY). “Abundant organizations build on strengths and abilities that strengthen others.”
Comment: It is equally important to know who you aren’t and what you don’t do. According to Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ”
2. Where am I going? (PURPOSE AND DIRECTION). “Abundant organizations sustain both fiscal and social responsibility.”
Comment: What is the ultimate objective? How and why will achieving it define both me and my organization at our very best?
3. Whom do I travel with? (TEAMWORK). “Abundant organizations take work relationships beyond high-performing teams to high-relating teams.”
Comment: High or peak performance (however defined) is impossible without superior communication, cooperation, and collaboration.
4. What challenges interest me? (ENGAGEMENT) “Abundance occurs when companies can engage not only employees’ skills (competence) and loyalty (commitment), but also their values (contribution).”
Comment: We are well-advised to recall Isaac Asimov’s observation, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it) but ‘That’s funny….’”
5. How do I build a positive work environment? (EFFECTIVE CONNECTION) “Abundant organizations create positive work environments that affirm and connect people throughout the organization.”
6. How do I respond to setbacks? (RESILIENCE and LEARNING) “Abundant organizations use principles of resilience and learning to persevere with both people and products.”
7. What delights me? (CIVILITY and DELIGHT) “Abundant organizations not only attend to outward demographic diversity of what makes individuals feel happy, cared for, and excited about life.”
8. How do I navigate the transitions necessitated by change? (ENABLING TRANSITION) “Abundant organizations help individuals internalize the behavioral, cognitive, and affective transitions necessitated by change.”
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Dave Ulrich has been ranked the #1 Management Educator & Guru by BusinessWeek. He has written 15 books co erring topics in HR and leadership (his latest is HR Transformation co-authored with Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nyman) and is a professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and cofounder of the RBL Group (http://rbl.net/).
Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D, is the author of Forgiving Ourselves: Gertting Back Up When We Let Ourselves Down, and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Alpine, Utah.
On June 4, 2010, McGraw-Hill will publish a book the Ulrichs have co-authored: The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations to Deliver Value for Customers, Investors, and Communities.
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.
“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.
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.