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You Say You Want A Transformation

Dave Ulrich’s book “HR Transformation” was the topic for our last #HRBookchat on Twitter,  and we were fortunate to have co-author Justin Allen join our discussion.  And while The Beatles’ song “Revolution” is a long way from the topic of HR Transformation, for some reason, the tune keeps dancing around in my head whenever I think about this book.  Transforming the HR function can feel like a revolution at times, or at minimum, a drawn out battle.  HR teams who can truly operate at a strategic level are ultimately those who are best able to support their organizations in delivering tangible and significant results, and getting to that stage always worth the effort.

If implementing changes in your HR organization is on your list to complete this year, here are key components from the book and the #HRBookchat community on how to do it well:

1. Connect your HR plans to business strategy.

The basis for the book, right down to the subtitle, is the understanding that HR must been built from “the outside in”. The direction, goals, and ultimately the workplace and culture created, all must be developed and refined to meet the needs of the business.  The authors note, “HR transformation is not about doing HR, it is about building business success.” Implementing strategic solutions means understanding how you are contributing to the achievement of key business outcomes.  Getting a better price from your benefits provider doesn’t cut it as a strategic contribution.

2. Be flawless in your operational activities first.

The authors note, “HR organizations that don’t do transactional work flawlessly are not credible when they attempt to play strategic roles.”  If there are gaps in your HR service delivery, or areas that would benefit from improvements in efficiencies, you need to deal with these issues first.  Only when you are seen as a successful manager of your own business will you be able to contribute to helping others successfully manage theirs.

3. Get HR connected directly to front-line activities.

In order to understand the issues and areas for opportunity within the rest of the business, HR needs to connect closely to the front-line.  The authors present an optimal model of corporate HR services with front-line business partners, a model many organizations use today.  But they push further to encourage HR staff to have a deep understanding of the business, by learning the elements that impact profit and knowing how people contribute to the long-term growth and success of the organization.

4. Don’t let the transformation end with “simply” restructuring.

Many reorganization or restructuring efforts are described as transformative, but redefining roles or changing the composition of functions within the HR department is not enough.  The authors note, “HR transformation should change the fundamental identity, culture or image of the company.”  If your efforts do not create outcomes visible to customers or investors, you haven’t taken it far enough.

5. Ensure ongoing investment in HR skill development.

The book emphasizes the importance of ongoing development of skills and knowledge for HR teams.  Beyond learning about trends in HR or keeping up-to-date with legislative changes, you need to ensure the capabilities of your team are evolving to meet the needs of the business.  This could be everything from developing financial skills for non-financial managers to developing stronger social media savvy.

6. Engage line managers, and prepare for nay-sayers.

The authors refer to the activities, attitudes and individuals who can ultimately derail your changes as “viruses”.  Careful planning to anticipate who or what can sabotage your efforts is a critical step.

The book continues with guidance on building ownership for HR with line management, as well as detailed project plans, including milestones and measurements.  The authors have created a summary of the book, including templates and videos, which you can find at

Overall, the book is a great resource for anyone looking to tackle transformation, whether you are just beginning the process or looking to make ongoing refinements.  The book chat was a great opportunity to connect HR leaders with one of the authors to discuss this topic in detail, but there is also a wealth of information and experience in the EOList community on success transforming organizations.  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below – what has worked well for you?


  1. Great post!

    I agree with the views expressed, except for one point: I am not sure that HR must been built only from “the outside in”. It should also be built “from the inside out”: a company (and its HR department) should assess the strenghts, the capabilities, the specific culture of its people and adapt its strategy to its own original “personality”. We live in the same environment as our competitors, that doesn’t mean we should have the same strategy.

    I am a strong believer in “connecting HR directly to front-line activities”. One experience that worked really well at my company was to send all HR staff (clercks and managers) to spend an entire day among their colleagues that do the core business.

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