Dave Ulrich on Smart Strategies to help businesses thrive in ambiguous times 

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BACK AT THE PEAK of the Covid lockdown in April 2021, New Zealand technology firm Fuel50 held a virtual FuelX Talent Mobility conference because it just wasnt possible to stage a live event as they had done in the past.

There were a number of great speakers — like Josh Bersin but one had a very different presentation from everyone else.

That speaker was Dave Ulrich 

Dave Ulrich

He spoke on How to increase the Impact of Your Talent Initiativesand one of the comments from a virtual FuelX attendee simply said, “Masterclass with Dave Ulrich … can’t beat it!”

The Harvard Business Review has described Dave as “one of the world’s leading human capital/HR experts,” and he is certainly that, but he’s also the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and a partner in The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He has also published hundreds of articlesmore than 30 books, and is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources.

I’ve heard Dave speak many times, and theres a reason he is the most recognized name in HR: It’s because he always has a lot of timelysmart and insightful things to say.

4 strategies to help organizations thrive

I was reminded of that again when I read one of his regular articles on LinkedIn titled 4 Strategies to Help Your Organization Thrive in Ambiguous TimesHe writes:

“There has never been a more challenging time to be a leader. As leaders continue to absorb ambiguity, they need to stay focused on building confidence in the future. … Though all organizations are different, these are the common tips that have helped businesses survive and thrive throughout uncertain times:

1. Build leaders that can harness uncertainty.

2. Make sure HR is focused on building human capabilities that matter.

3. Position for customer advantage.

4. Build an agile organization.

It’s the last two of those strategies that seem to be the most critical for most organizations in today’s post lockdown world.

Being better positioned for the future

Here’s what Dave Ulrich has to say about “Position for customer advantage:”

“For many organizations the external reality is changing.  Though there are many unknowns, customer needs will likely shift, competitors will respond in different ways, and industries will be redefined. When leading through a crisis, effective leadership teams respond by doing a thorough evaluation of how well their organization is positioned to deliver what their customers want.

The most important decisions leadership teams make are about how they position their organizations to create differentiated value for customers. In times of radical change, what provides value to customers is often changing faster than organizations can anticipate.

Sustainable growth occurs when internal capabilities and priorities are aligned to deliver what your customers will wan not what they used to want.

That last insight is the big challenge. Anticipating what customers WILL want is a difficult hurdle for any organization to get over because most internal systems are focused on what customers want now, or as Dave puts it, “what they used to want.”

Agility is the key to long-term success

That’s why his other critical strategy – Build an agile organization – needs to work hand-in-hand with delivering what customers WILL wanmoving aheadHere’s his take on that:

“The pressures on organizations to be more agile and to do more with fewer resources have had profound impact on organizations around the world over the last two years.

Organizations that are winning have found ways to identify and prioritize the most important work and reallocate resources to best support that. Leaders usually make cost decisions based on alternative scenarios and financial modeling. This is a good start but often isn’t enough. If those alternative scenarios are not grounded in identifying and protecting distinctive capabilities that create aadvantage in the eyes of their target customers, they can lead to declining results.

Great leaders are able to allocate resources in ways that position them to emerge even stronger than before.

When leaders take this approach to efficiency, they clarify the distinctive capabilities needed for their business to succeed. Armed with this intent, they streamline work based on its contribution to distinctiveness. This unleashes resources for reinvestment in the work that customers care about by reducing or eliminating other work.

Ultimately, the organization emerges from the crisis better positioned for the future.

It’s that last part that stands out. Building a strong organization is always the name of the game, but often, there is no clear path to doing that.

Overcoming unexpected challenges

Abraham Lincoln once observed that a compass can show the right direction to go in, but what it doesn’t reveal are the unexpected challenges — the deserts, jungles, chasms, and other obstacles that are ahead.

Even if you build that strong, well-positioned organization today, tomorrow may also bring unexpected challenges that need to be overcome. Being agile and able to deftly make the course corrections when needed is a critical component that defines all great organizations.

Back at the virtual FuelX Talent Mobility conference in 2021, Dave Ulrich talked about many of the issues that popped up in his LinkedIn article, but he also said this and it’s something to keep in mind:

“Work is not a place, but there is a boundary and the boundary now is value. What did you do today that created value for a customer?

If you don’t have an answer, you didn’t do a good job today, and we didn’t help you to … The boundary of work is not a place but our ability to build value for our customers.”

When Dave Ulrich writes or speaks, it’s always a Masterclass. He’s well worth reading or listening to whenever you get the opportunityThat’s why his new weekly Linkedin column – it already has more than 100,000 subscribers — is a great resource for everyone.  

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