The Ulrich model helps large or complex organizations with many business units organize their human resource function. The Ulrich model was named for management coach David Ulrich after the release of his 1996 book Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results.
Understanding the Ulrich model
In the book, Ulrich argues that the role of human resource professionals must be redefined to meet the competitive challenges modern businesses face. That is, organizations must stop viewing HR as an administration tool and instead see it as a strategic tool.
To some extent, the function of HR has changed organically. Once the foundation of every business, HR administrative activities are increasingly outsourced or automated. Furthermore, the traditional HR model of a single, large team of generalists and specialists is reducing in size.
Given this context, HR management is evolving from a bureaucratic function with a focus on operations to a strategic support function based on consultancy. That is, HR is becoming more of a trusted advisor and less of a policy officer.
Ultimately, many businesses are encouraging this shift by following the four basic principles of what many refer to as “Ulrichism”:
- Define a clear, new role for HR.
- Determine how this role facilitates competitive advantage.
- Create a unified structure that consistently delivers value.
- Measure how the company has performed according to predefined metrics.
The four roles of a HR professional
According to Ulrich, these are the four roles a HR professional must play in an organization:
- Strategic partner (Strategic HR) – who develops and aligns strategies with business results and fosters systems thinking with a focus on customers.
- Change agent (Transformation & Change) – with a deep understanding of organizational culture, the change agent institutionalizes the capacity for change. Primarily this is enabled by training individuals and assisting line managers as they lead change initiatives.
- Administrative expert (HR Service Delivery) – tasked with creating HR processes that are both effective and efficient. They must also be tailored to the individual needs of the business without cost overruns.
- Employee champion (Employee Contribution) – these individuals create competent and committed employees and ultimately increase human capital contribution. Employee champions also recognize the power of digital design in increasing engagement among the emerging millennial-generation workforce.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Ulrich model
- The Ulrich model advocates that processes be simplified, standardized, re-engineered, and automated wherever possible. With less time spent on bureaucratic internal processes, human resources can direct more effort toward strategic goals.
- With a new model for HR administration, traditionally negative notions of HR practitioners are expelled. Company culture and employee morale increase when staff can see that HR has a vested interest in adding value to the business.
- Implementation time. The Ulrich model is an organization-wide strategy that will take time to realize maximum effectiveness. Implementation time is also increased because the business must adopt all four of the stipulated HR roles and create job descriptions for each.
- Confusion over the model. Some businesses argue that the original model is outdated or obsolete. However, Ulrich has made several updates to the model over the years, with the most recent being in 2012. Some businesses also believe that the Ulrich model proposes a blueprint for restructuring HR with defined job titles. However, this is not the case. Businesses must adapt each of the four roles according to their needs.
- The Ulrich model represents a paradigm shift in human resource function. It is particularly suited to large or complex organizations with multiple business units.
- The Ulrich model defines four key roles that HR must play in an organization: strategic partner, change agent, administrative expert, and employee champion.
- The Ulrich model shifts the focus from resource-intensive bureaucracy to one of delivering value to the business. However, it does take time to implement and there is some confusion over whether the model is a blueprint or a methodology.
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