Connect with us


‘Leaders must take care of their people in this pandemic’



Excerpts from a virtual interview

By Dinesh Weerakkody

Celebrated HR Guru Prof. Dave Ulrich who has helped shape modern HR in this interview emphasizes the fact that leaders must learn to harness uncertainty to be able to help countries and organizations to prosper in the unknowable new normal.Prof. Ulrich has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200 companies and worked in over 80 countries.

Dave, It’s a long time since I’ve seen and spoken to you. What has changed since we last met?

Much has changed and until January 2020 the world was moving along and then in January the corona crisis hit and the entire world went through dramatic change overnight.

The global pandemic has heightened HR’s relevance to business. In this context, what should HR be doing to help people and organizations deliver increased value and what are the new practices that will emerge post crisis?

Let me lay out HR’s value creation with three very simple insights. No. 1, we have to create and capture value for others. The goal of HR is to create value for our employees, for our organizations, for our customers, for our investors and for our communities. So HR’s number one issue is to continue to create value both inside and outside the firm. No. 2, to create value to all stakeholders, HR must deliver great people, organizations, and leadership. No. 3, HR has to continue to reinvent itself, through digital HR, through technology, through analytics. In brief, HR’s agenda is to create value outside into all stakeholders, through talent, organization and leadership and by transforming HR .

What has been the impact of the pandemic on HR skills and competencies? What new skills will HR professionals need to develop post pandemic?

We have studied HR competencies for 30 years, through 7 rounds of research and we are now starting the 8th round. As we look ahead, we envision five HR competencies that we think will have an impact. No 1- is information asymmetry, or learning how to source information in this new world even when working virtually. . Number 2- is being able to separate signal and noise. In this world there is a lot of noise, as evidenced with a lot of activity, emails, ideas, and books. How do we sift important signals that matter from this noise, particularly around emotional wellbeing. Therefore the challenges are ;No. 1 information asymmetry. No. 2 separating noise from signal and No. 3. beginning to build integrated solutions, it’s not isolated staffing, training & compensation initiatives, HR needs to integrate these specialists activities into integrated solutions. . No; 4 is social responsibility and Citizenship. HR now needs to be much more aware of and connected to social responsibility.. No; 5 is guidance. HR should access information that offers guidances. It’s not enough to just describe an organization practices- like culture. We should be specific about the “right” culture, given the situation. Those are the 5 skills we are studying and we want to find out how they deliver value to stakeholders. Information asymmetry, separating noise from signal, managing social responsibility and corporate citizenship , integrated solutions and then organisation guidance.

What has technology really done to empower engagement in this crisis?

Technology, like almost everything else, offers good news and bad news. The good news is that technology enables digital information that supports good decision making. The bad news is that technology can be used to distance people form each other. We have seen 4 phases of digital affecting HR. The first phase of digital HR, is efficiency. So technology allows us to be more efficient to do learning or staffing or compensation efficiently. The second phase is innovation. Josh Berson who is the expert in this area said there are 2,700 new digital HR apps, some of which are good and some are silly. The next (3rd) phase of HR digital that is coming is information guidance. How do we use digital to tell us more of what we do? It’s no longer enough to do a best practice. We have to do a practice that creates an impact on key results. Then, the fourth phase, is experience or connection which is where I think HR needs to focus in this pandemic. Technology should enable us, one- to be more efficient, two- to innovate, three for information management and four to have a better experience and that’s where I think we are heading with technology.

Moving on, today what would HR look like in the new economy?

When people tell you that they know the new normal. My advice to you is turn around and run. I don’t know what the new normal is? I think we live in a world full of uncertainty and our job in HR is to harness that uncertainty. Our message should be; don’t be threatened by the uncertainty, but to discover the opportunity in it.Out of the uncertainty that comes from this crisis will emerge a whole new way to behave and do things. These new behaviors must focus on creating value for all stakeholders. Number two, HR will have to add greater value to the people, organization and leadership. Number three, HR will have to reinvent HR, through transforming the HR department, offering integrated HR solutions, and upgrading HR professionals. HR leaders unlike ever before are expected to help their people and organizations navigate this crisis.

What will the new world of work look like post covid?

I think we’re going to see a new ecosystem where and how we work; I think we used to worry about where we work. When I get up in the morning, I go to work, I’m at work and I go home from work. I think that’s gone, or less likely. For example – I could be in my condominium, my office, my car, a coffee shop, or a hotel. No matter where we work we have to be connected through our shared values, and the boundaries of work are not physical, the boundaries of work are the values we share that create value for our customer. So the boundaries of work are shifting from ‘place’ to ‘values’. This means that no matter where one works there are expectations that shape the boundaries of work. These expectations are about the value created for the customer.

What type of skills will disappear in the next two or three years?

I don’t think skills simply disappear, they build on each other. For example, the skill of connection is going to evolve. It is not going to be connection face to face, I think it’s going to be virtually. How do you and I connect even though we’re 12 hours apart? Your night time, my morning even though we’re in different places, but I can still begin to feel that connection, so the reskilling is building on the past. That is, we still set KPIs and goals, but virtually. We communicate, we communicate virtually. Therefore we will build on the skills that we’ve learned in the past.

What are the three things that HR can do to deliver value to a CEO in this crisis?

Take care of your people. Help them feel emotionally cared for by showing empathy. Caring for them can create a great organization that serves customers. Talent, organization and leadership can all of which serve customers. For example, many have said our people are our most important asset, and I think it needs to evolve to our people are our customers’ most important asset. Do our people do what our customers want? Our culture is the identity of our firm in the marketplace. Our leaders must have the competencies that create value for our customers. Everything we do in HR, talent, organization and leadership should create value in the marketplace.

You talked a lot about the organization guidance system (OGS). Tell us a little bit more about this and how can we make use of OGS?

We have found that organizations are spending about 1% of their annual revenue on people and organization initiatives in talent, leadership, capability, and HR, but they are not clear about how to optimize these investments to deliver results. The guidance system will provide answers to questions like: What talent, leadership, organization, and HR initiatives will have the most impact on employee, business, customer, investor, and community result? To answer this question, we can build on decades of research to guide people and organization initiatives that deliver results. Our work shows 5 outcomes -employee, business, customers, financial, and community and there are 36 initiatives, which equal 180 cells (5 outcomes * 36 intiatives). Business and HR leaders need to know which of these 180 cells they should invest in. Simply go to and take the short survey for each pathway to get a free report on where to focus to deliver key results. This report offers invaluable guidance on where to priorities your people and organization initiatives.

Dave, finally what is your message to CEOs of Sri Lanka?

I’m going to give the same message to the CEOs that I would to all HR and other professionals; here’s my answer to CEOs in Sri Lanka and to others, the best year of your life is the next 12 months. The best is yet ahead. Sri Lanka has a history of resilience and success, of continually rebounding and coming back. My friends and CEOs, my friends in business, my friends in HR, the best is yet ahead, the next 12 months will be the best ever.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Dilmah voted Best Corporate Citizen in Ceylon Chamber Sustainability Awards 2020



Sri Lankan family tea company Dilmah was honoured in Sri Lanka’s apex corporate sustainability awards, as one of two recipients of the Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Award for Sri Lanka in 2020, a company news release said.

“Dilmah won in the category of Businesses with Less than Rs. 15 Billion Annual Turnover based on complex criteria linked to social, environmental and economic value, compliance, resilience, stakeholder management and crisis response. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce award is judged annually – now in its 17th year – in an exhaustive process steered by a panel of eminent judges. The Best Corporate Citizen in the category of Businesses with greater than Rs. 15 Billion Annual Turnover was won by Ceylon Biscuits Ltd, also a Sri Lankan family business,” it said.

In addition to the coveted top award, Dilmah won category awards for Customer Relations, Environment Beyond the Business and was chosen as one of the Top 10 Corporate Citizens of Sri Lanka. The company stands out in its achievement as a family owned business with a singular focus on tea, among conglomerates and finance houses that form the top 10.

“Dilmah was formed by Founder, Merrill J. Fernando, on an unequivocal commitment to human service. The context was the colonial economic system that persisted in the tea industry in the 1950s, vestiges of which are evident even today in inadequate value addition to Sri Lanka’s high-quality tea and spices. The award scrutinised each finalists’ performance in areas including sustainability and business resilience in the wake of COVID-19, packaging sustainability, customer relations, commitment to environment and social development initiatives,” the release said.

Merrill J. Fernando, who recently celebrated his 70th year in tea is recognized as the face of fine Ceylon Tea in several countries where he started his business inviting tea drinkers to, ‘do try it!’ He commented on hearing of the accolade, ‘Mine was a simple wish – to present the finest tea with quality and integrity. What people call sustainability is a way of life for my sons and I. This award is a humbling accolade, because my journey in tea was marked more by criticism than appreciation.’

A minimum 15% of the company’s pre-tax profits directly benefit humanity through the work of the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation, both formed to fulfill the company’s commitment to community and environment. The Dilmah philosophy has touched the lives of thousands through programmes for disabled children, empowerment initiatives for women, youth and communities. The company became carbon neutral in 2019 and plans to be carbon negative by 2030.



Continue Reading


Vision Care opens 60th branch at Medihelp Hospital in Homagama



Vision Care, Sri Lanka’s premier eye care solutions provider, opened its 60th branch at Medihelp Hospital located at High-level road, Homagama. Present at the momentous opening were Chief Guest Dr. Prasad Pathirana – Eye Surgeon, Horana Base Hospital and Chandika Wijesiriwardana – Executive Director, Medihelp Hospitals, who graced the event.

“Vision Care has entered into a strategic partnership with Medihelp Hospitals to enhance the hospital’s eye care offering. Vision Care is focused on expanding its optical services to selected Medihelp Hospitals’ locations, thereby eventually covering all major districts in the country,” a news release issued in connection with the event said.

It said the new location offers a wide collection of affordable eyewear and specialized services such as primary eye examination, refraction, contact lens assessment, eye pressure diagnostics, hearing aids and other related services.

Continue Reading


Kangaroo Cabs adopt strict measures to safeguard customers against Covid-19



Kangaroo Cabs (Pvt) Ltd., Sri Lanka’s leading cab service provider trusted by customers for the past 33 years, has adopted many stringent measures to ensure customer safety against Covid-19.

This includes providing hand sanitizers, touchless thermometers and face masks to all drivers registered under Kangaroo Cabs. They are advised strictly to follow health guidelines and pay attention to safeguard their valued customers. Customers’ body temperature is checked and hand sanitization provided before every trip.

The car is sanitized at the end of every journey to ensure the safety of the next customer and the drivers. Drivers are advised to wear face masks and follow health guidelines right throughout the journey. Precautions and safety measures are a top priority at Kangaroo Cabs.

Continue Reading