Book Review: HR from the Outside In (Dave Ulrich)

Could Dave Ulrich write a bad book if he tried? I don’t think he could, and Ulrich’s latest work keeps up his long trend of successful books that encapsulate the HR profession. HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources is Ulrich’s latest work (co-authored with Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank and Mike Ulrich). This book summarizes the findings from Ulrich’s recent survey of HR Professionals. This survey is one of the largest surveys done worldwide, and Ulrich publishes the results every five years.


This book argues that HR has evolved in five “waves”:

  • HR Administration – Emphasis on the administrative and transactional work by HR.
  • HR Practices – Innovation in specialized areas of HR (i.e., compensation, recruitment, training).
  • HR Strategy – Integration of HR and business practices.
  • HR Outside-In – HR moves beyond strategy to align its work with business context and stakeholders

The last wave is extremely important to note, and HR Professionals who fail to change to this perspective will soon be left behind. It is simply not acceptable for an HR Professional to be content with processing transactions.

This book also argues that HR Professionals will require six competencies to thrive in today’s business world. These competencies include:

  • Strategic Positioner – This is much more than just “knowing” the business. HR Professionals must be able to position their organization to anticipate and match external implications and bolster their organization’s competitive advantage.
  • Credible Activist – HR Professionals must be internal activists, but they must focus their time and attention on issues that actually matter to the organization. They must be true professionals and be able to influence others and generate results in everything they do.
  • Capability Builder – HR Professionals must be able to align strategy, culture, practices and behavior; must create a meaningful work environment; and must must find and capitalize on all the organization’s capabilities.
  • Change Champion – Most corporate change efforts start with enthusiasm and end with cynicism. HR Professionals must help the organization counter that trend by helping it diagnose issues and learn from past failures.
  • HR Innovator and Integrator – HR Professionals must ensure the organization has the right talent and leadership for the current and future success of the organization.It must develop innovative HR practices that drive the talent agenda of the organization.
  • Technology Proponent – All organizations seem to have difficulty in handling and transferring the massive amounts of information they accumulate. This is especially true in HR, and HR Professionals must find ways to effectively use technology to understand and strengthen the talent within the organization.

I read this book shortly after it was released and found myself intrigued by the insights throughout it. The authors have the enviable ability to articulate what is on the minds of HR Professionals worldwide. They are not content to just complain about all the problems in HR. Rather, they challenge the profession to understand its value and aim as high as possible. That is exciting for someone like myself, who is still in the early stages of his HR career.

HR from the Outside-In includes a wealth of resources, case studies, and information that are too plentiful to mention here. In my opinion, it is the most valuable and insightful book on HR available, and it should be mandatory reading for every HR Professional, and aspiring HR Professional. I also think it is Dave Ulrich’s best work to date, which is no small accomplishment. If even a fraction of HR Professionals develop the six competencies listed above, the HR Profession has an extremely bright future ahead of it.

I purchased this copy myself and have no affiliation with the authors.

Ulrich, D., Younger, J., Brockbank, W. & Ulrich, M. (2012). HR from the outside-in: Six competencies for the future of human resources. Boston: McGraw Hill.

One thought on “Book Review: HR from the Outside In (Dave Ulrich)

  1. Tim, I coudn’t agree more with yours comments!!!
    Ulrich always demostrates one step ahead.
    Their concepts are clear and useful; things no easy in Human Resources field.

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