By Pichaya Changsorn
Published on March 3, 2010
US expert urges a return to meaningful engagement
An influential voice in the corporate human-resources field in the United States suggested in Bangkok last week that companies should be "turning down the downturn" by creating "abundant organisations" where employees find meaning in their work.
Dave Ulrich, University of Michigan professor and author of many respected books on human resources and leadership, told the Asia-Pacific HR Congress 2010 that some companies had found that in the grips of the recession they had taken the meaning and purpose out of the work of their employees.
While employee-engagement scores remain high at many firms, these can paint a false picture because employees with jobs are grateful simply to have a job. Many employees are having problems with a "psychological recession" because they are finding a lack of purpose in their work, he said.
"Leaders have to be 'meaning makers'. Successful leaders are multipliers," he said.
"Most people are not quitting companies because of money, but for lack of opportunities. Human resources [officers] must help to create value and a sense of meaning and purpose for employees. Doing this will help to retain staff," he said.
The concept stems from a new book Ulrich has coauthored with his wife Wendy, a psychologist, called "The Why of Work: How Leaders Create Meaning at Work to Exceed Financial, Customer and Community Goals". It will be launched on June 1.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Bangkok conference, Ulrich said that although human- resources management had become an integral part of business, it didn't necessarily follow that more human-resources specialists would become chief executives.
"I don't think that's necessary. Good HR [professionals] should do good HR work," he said.
At the conference, Ulrich spoke about the transformation of human resources, from an administrative role to practices and strategies, and referred to "HR customers".
"I want you to ask [yourselves]: what is the greatest challenge in your job today, through which you can help your company to be successful? Your job is to turn business challenges into human-resources issues," Ulrich told the HR professionals attending the conference.
He emphasised the need for HR professionals to have an "external view"; to find a connection between their work and stakeholders including line managers, employees of today and tomorrow, investors, communities and customers. He suggested that HR professionals should spend 2 to 4 per cent of their time with their companies' customers.
He cited the case of Delta Airlines, which has tied employees' compensation with customer expectations, by giving vouchers to passengers enabling them to reward flight attendants who provide them with great service.