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Dave Ulrich: 'Standards should start with stakeholders'

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HR magazine has launched a new campaign, Raising the Standard, to explore whether HR needs standards and how to raise the level of professional practice. In this piece we gather the thoughts of Dave Ulrich.

Medicine has them. Accountants swear by them. Technology needs them. But does HR? In recent years, HR professionals on both sides of the Atlantic have begun grappling with the idea of introducing professional standards.

This year, HR magazine is launching its Raising the Standard campaign to explore whether HR should be standardised, how best to do it and whether there are alternative ways the profession can lift its standard of practice.

The aim of the campaign is to provide our readers with a platform to discuss this issue and, over time, arrive at a sensible consensus on how the profession should move forward.  To do this, HR magazine will carry out research, host public forums and follow developments in standard-setting across the world and initiatives that feed into the debate, such as Valuing your Talent. 

As this magazine pointed out in November, HR standards now seem a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

An International Standards Organization technical committee is exploring HR standards under five working groups: HR terminology, human capital metrics, governance, workforce planning and recruitment.

In the UK, the British Standards Institution hopes to begin a consultation on a Human Value Management Standard by the end of this year, which will provide a principles-based framework for future HR standard-setting.

Crowdsourcing research, carried out by HR magazine and Silverman Research, found the HR community broadly supportive of standards, but with some caveats.

“Standards that are purely about ticking boxes would not add anything to the HR profession. However, standards which are more connected to evidence-based management ideas and principles-based could help HR to add more value,” said Alice.

“Standards should reflect the competencies that stakeholders have a right to expect of the profession. They should identify a consistency of approach, rather than predicting an outcome,” added Tony.

Dave Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, told HR magazine standards should not be “by HR for HR”.

“HR standards should start with what key stakeholders (customers, investors, communities outside and within the organisation) receive from HR work,” he said. “Starting standards with stakeholder outcomes shifts the focus from HR activity (such as cost/hire) to how HR delivers business outcomes (such as customer share, investor confidence and employee productivity).”

Ulrich said that as HR is a mix of science and art, issues around talent, leadership and culture should not be “turned into a formula since they require insight and judgment”. However, HR standards cannot be applied piecemeal because HR  often offers integrated solutions to business problems. 

“HR must deliver value and rigour becomes a key factor in that process, but standards without judgment is like buying a house based only on information from the internet without visiting the home,” he said.

In coming months, HR magazine will launch Raising the Standard initiatives. Watch this space.