Dave Ulrich Human Resource Model’s Middle Phase

Subject: Management Theories
Pages: 8
Words: 2257
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


Once business partnerships are established, tension is created between different entities. DeVoge and Spreier (2005) hold that employees are the most affected elements of an organisation in the event of a merger. HR is important since the resolution of tension that is created between employees and organisations that form partnerships is necessary to ensure the success of a partnership. Daniel (1999) claims that HR plays the function of helping in the management of the challenges that accrue from different organisational cultures of the organisations that form the partnerships, including a merger. When partnerships are formed, issues of cultural differences, fear of retrenchment, and survival syndrome emerge. To mitigate these challenges, HR plays significant roles as both a strategic partner and an employee champion. Strategic partnership, administrative expert, employee champion, and change agent constitute the four components for Ulrich’s model for HR functions during the formation of business partnerships, including mergers. This paper discusses the importance of adding a middle phase in the Dave Ulrich’s model. The phase covers HR professional roles and contributions in the merging process. The middle phase has been added as a theoretical and practical contribution to the original model.

Background to Dave Ulrich’s Model

Ulrich’s model for strategic roles of human resource is a four-role model that was first postulated by Conner and Ulrich (1996). Ulrich later developed it in his scholarly work titled Human Resource Champions: the Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivery Results (Ulrich 1997). The model enumerates the critical functions of HR within an organisation during the formation of business partnerships, including organisational merging processes. Dave Ulrich is an expert and a scholar in the field of HR. Ulrich’s model marked a sporadic shift of HRM approaches from the inclination of human resource within an organisation to focus on strategic partnerships.

Enhancing partnership calls for organisational business changes (Mathis, Jackson & Valentine 2007). Merging is one of the ways in which the business of an organisation changes (Jerjawi 2011). From the basis of Ulrich’s four-role model, HR enhances the success of a business in several ways, among them being enhancing the maximisation of quality together with cost minimisation (Armstrong 2006). Partnerships are formed with the anticipation that the partnering organisations will gain mutually from each other in terms of increased performance. Any kind of business partnership has to undergo change to achieve certain strategic goals. In this extent, Ulrich’s model regards HR as playing the role of strategic partnership and a change agent. The organisational change process during the formation of partnerships such as mergers requires the HR to execute administrative functions.

The decision to form mergers is steered by complexities that are encountered by organisations. Such complexities make organisations constantly look for mechanisms of becoming competitive (Brockbank 2010). One of the ways of gaining competitive advantage is by ‘discovering and implementing a communication strategy that supports a company’s business objectives for its customers, workforce, and partners’ (Perry & Bodkin 2000, p.89). By playing administrative functions, HR engages principal roles in enhancing effective communication. Meisinger (2007) asserts that good communication strategies have multiple benefits for an organisation, ranging from enhancing workforce motivation to the creation of additional customers and retention of the existing clientele. As revealed in the Dave Ulrich model, this observation means that the HR must play administrative functions.

The forth element of Ulrich model encompasses the functioning of the HR as an employee champion. While working as the employee champion, HR listens and creates mechanisms of responding to employee concerns. In the process of forming business partnerships, employees in the business entities are concerned with whom they should be accountable to. Barney (2010) appreciates the significance of this challenge by claiming that organisations must determine and set proper guidelines on the mechanisms and approaches of managing employees in the process of forming mergers.

In the determination of the persons to whom employees should be accountable, several factors must be considered. One of such factors is the amount of assets that each organisation owns. Stahla (2005) observes that the organisation that possesses more assets takes over the function of managing the merger once it is formed. This claim implies that organisations that have the largest stake in a merger have the main interest in the performance of the merger. Therefore, in case of poor championing of employee interests that may result in low productivity of a business partnership, the entity that has the largest stake feels the highest pain.

The goal of employee championing is to ensure that workers are managed effectively to yield organisational success. Jerjawi (2011, p.69) confirms, ‘in the past, organisations used to have good employee strategies’. Such strategies entailed the provision of security together with the creation of hope for future promotions. Some organisations do not seek effective mechanisms of enhancing good communication between the management and staff. Hence, in the formation of mergers and other business partnerships, communication strategies are crucial so that HR plays effectively its roles as the employee champion as recommended in Ulrich’s model. Although Ulrich’s model has been applied with success in organisations, it is important to appreciate that it cannot apply in its pure form in all organisations. It is important for organisations to make appropriate changes to ensure that it adapts to their specific needs. As shown in figure 1 below, one of such adaptations can involve the incorporation of an additional middle phase.

A Modified Dave Ulrich’s Model
Figure 1: A Modified Dave Ulrich’s Model

Importance of Adding a Middle Phase to Dave Ulrich’s model

Ulrich’s model specifies the various functions of HR during the formation of business partnerships such as mergers and acquisitions. In its goal to play the role of a change agent, employee champion, administrative expert, and strategic partnership roles, it is crucial to incorporate knowledge, skills, and expertise of professionals who serve in the department of the HR. Specification of the role is perhaps inappropriate without incorporating assets for implementation of the HR roles as specified in Ulrich’s model. Employees in the HR department, including the chief human resource officer, form some of the essential assets for implementation of the policies that are developed to enhance effective change through mergers and acquisitions. Thus, adding an additional phase that specifies the role they (stakeholders) need to play to ensure that the functions that are outlined in Ulrich’s model in its pure form effectively lead to organisational change becomes critical in terms of the applicability of the model in a variety of organisations. This significance is perhaps crucial upon consideration of some of the mistakes that are made in the implementation of the Ulrich’s model in organisations that form partnerships.

The idea that organisations can pick any business model and implement it is inappropriate. Besides, it may also not yield any results. This claim does not suggest that Ulrich’s model is ineffective. Rather, although it may have some elements that may not fit well with the specifics of an organisation or a group of organisations, its implementation may also experience challenges akin to management and implementation problems. Ulrich’s model offers a discussion of what many organisations have done to enhance their success since 1990s. The model provides a benchmark for organisations’ HR functions. Therefore, the main challenge that organisations have to face involves how the model can be improved to increase the capability of the HR department. Improving HR capability means that organisations need to have determined the roles and capabilities of their human resource assets. In this extent, the middle phase becomes important since it provides the platform on which organisations can analyse the necessary changes in its HR to ensure Ulrich’s model becomes effective in terms of fostering smooth organisational change through mergers.

In a HR magazine, Ulrich appreciates the need for continuous modification of his model to suit different organisational needs (Roberts 2014). Responding to his critics, he asserts that any attempt to judge the effectiveness of his model is tantamount to arguing that cell phone and other electronic devices that were built in the 1990s can serve the needs of 2010 users (Roberts 2014). Similar to Ulrich, thinking behind its applicability also needs to evolve. Indeed, Ulrich says, ‘the fundamental question we continue to ask is how HR professionals can add value to a business’ (Roberts 2014, Para. 2). Adding the middle phase in the model as shown in figure 1 may help in adding value of HR through the evaluation of key competencies within the HR department that can foster effective implementation of Ulrich’s model.

Roberts’ (2014) evidence suggests that Ulrich’s model has nothing that is particularly wrong. However, it is not normally used in the right manner. He further says that many organisations have invested in HR models that are similar to Ulrich’s model. Nonetheless, such investments are not utilised in wise ways. This observation implies that knowledge basis that resides in the HR arm of an organisation is important for successful implementation of any HR model. Indeed, some organisations make a mistake of throwing financial resources in the form of investment models of success with the hope that such investments will solve a problem. Although such resources are necessary for the realisation of any change, the resources only need to be spent in strategically designed change approaches. Strategies reside within employee knowledge bases and talent potentials. As such, the one-size-fit-all approach in the implementation of the unmodified Ulrich’s model constitutes an unsuccessful strategy. It is important for an organisation to evaluate the role of HR in the formation of mergers as strategic partners in the context of their capability to play various roles such as strategic decision-making, culture management, and business knowledge development. If the capability is nonexistent, a subtle way to approach the problems is the evaluation of whether the HR has the ability to play consultative roles during the search for possible outsourced knowledge bases.

Employees fear the implication of a merger on their job security. The fears create survival syndrome. Such fear leads to reduced employee performance levels since their worries shift from maintaining their set standards for organisational performance to worries on the capacity to remain employed by an organisation. Jerjawi (2011, p.68) amplifies this position by claiming, ‘If employees of merging companies do not have as much fear over the change in the event of merger, productivity is more to likely to stay at previous levels’. Fear among employees is propagated through rumours.

HR plays the role of strategic partnership by detecting and effectively addressing rumours concerning the merging organisations’ decision to lay off employees where work functions seem redundant. In this extent, it is important for the HR to play the professional role of a tool (doer) for managing the likely conflicts. This role is also reflected in the functional role of employee champions since the HR needs to have the professional capability for helping to form effective partnerships and/or enhancing effective personal communication. During the formation of mergers, fear that is associated with office relocations and other physical changes that are required in making the operation of a merger effective emerge. The HR needs to constitute a tool for relaying this information to the management of organisations in the effort to seek mechanisms of ensuring that the fears do not persist even when the merger is in full operation.

Organisations merge in an attempt to take advantage of the strength of one another to increase collective performance. In this effort, the HR plays the role of selecting the most talented people from the merging organisations while relieving the less effective and innovative persons from the merger (Daniel 1999). Having a professional capability to make well-informed decisions on the selection and recruitment process is incredibly important. Organisations that form a merger believe that employing people who have different organisational experiences gives the resulting merger the advantage to develop the capacity to tap and benefit from a wide range of talents and knowledge bases. This way, a merger is able to innovate and create a wide range of products, which while traded properly, translate into increased profitability. Nevertheless, this situation brings together people who have different cultures.

To resolve cultural conflict, the HR needs to have professional capability for creating a common culture by helping employees to understand that different people have different abilities and beliefs. Such differences should not be permitted to influence the way people relate with one another (Ollapally & Bhatnagar 2009). Employees of one organisation should not consider themselves inferior in comparison with persons from the other organisation that forms a merger. This observation suggests that staffing for a merger needs to be done based on merit. The HR should function as a tool for effective selection. With the right people, policies that are developed in the context of Ulrich’s model become possible to implement with lower chances of failure.


Ulrich’s model proposes that HR plays the functions of a strategic partnership, change agent, administrative expert, and employee champion during the formation of mergers or any other business partnership. However, for it to execute these roles effectively, it is important for it to possess capabilities in the form of talent potential and knowledge bases to execute them. The paper has suggested that it is important to add a middle phase in Ulrich’s model, which helps in implementing Ulrich’s functions of the HR during the formation of a merger. In the effort to develop customised approach for enhancing a successful merger, organisations need to evaluate their functionality in the roles that are enumerated by Ulrich in the context of their professional duties and contributions in the merging process.


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