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EXCLUSIVE: Dave Ulrich warns HR directors to look at the bigger picture outside their own organisation

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The biggest challenge for HR professionals is to respond to the context outside their own business in order to strengthen the strategy of their organisation, Dave Ulrich told the HR Leaders Club.

Speaking to senior HR professionals in an exclusive telephone conversation on Friday afternoon, Dave Ulrich, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, said: "We must invest in people in tough times, reward performance, be transparent to the public and focus on changing processes."

Ulrich is currently researching the idea of creating "meaningful" workplaces for employees.

"Many staff physically attend work," he said, "But they have, in their minds, ‘retired' on the job. They need to have a sense of identity, purpose, challenge and delight in order to continue their working lives with a sense of meaning."

He added: "It is easy for HR to take their eyes off the bigger picture - the people in their workforce. People need to feel part of the business process so they can share in its success."

Turning to the role of leaders in the current recession, he added: "Leaders need to look after their health emotionally, physically and spiritually to reinforce the spiritual side of leadership. Leaders who demonstrate resilience attract followers who think likewise.

"We often look at HR from the inside but it is no longer just about employees but for our company investors. We need investors in our organisations to see the value of our leadership."