Dave Ulrich’s Model of Human Resource Four Roles

Subject: Management Theories
Pages: 8
Words: 2244
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


Human Resource Management [HRM] has undergone tremendous changes over the past decades. HR has shifted from the operational to a strategic continuum. Thus, Ulrich (2013) asserts that HR professionals are charged with the duty of delivering results and creating value for diverse organisational stakeholders. In order to deliver value, HR managers should develop a clear definition of deliverables in order to succeed in developing clear HR roles.

In his contribution to the development of HR, Dave Ulrich formulated the HR business partner model, which affirms that it is possible for organisations to achieve excellence. The model emphasises the importance of perceiving the HR function as a transformational role rather than a transactional model. Ulrich argues that HR function should be transformed in order to improve its capacity to add value to organisational performance. Furthermore, Ulrich holds that HR can add value to business performance by integrating four main roles, which include strategic partner, employee champion, change champion, and administrative partner. Kenton and Yarnall (2012, p.69) add that the model postulates that the ‘HR roles should work as a “business partner” with a specific outcome or deliverable in focus’. Despite its contribution in the development of the HR roles, Ulrich model has a number of theoretical and practical weaknesses. This paper highlights some of the major theoretical and practical weaknesses of Dave Ulrich model.

Theoretical weaknesses

Developments in HRM over the years have led to the appreciation of the importance of taking into account the employees’ voice. However, businesses are facing new pressures that should be addressed through effective implementation of the HR function (Boroughs, Palmer & Hunter 2008). The Ulrich model is one of the new models that have been formulated in an effort to foster the delivery of the HR functions.

According to Ulrich, the strategic partner role entails ensuring that the HR initiatives and activities align with the business and corporate strategy. Thus, it is imperative for HR managers to focus on driving their organisations towards attaining the predetermined business goals/strategies. The business goal can be achieved through effective strategy execution and ensuring that the customer needs are met sufficiently (Kenton & Yarnall 2012). Consequently, HR professionals should have the ability to identify and implement business practices that foster the attainment of the desired level of business excellence. Ulrich argues that the strategic partner role involves transforming all strategic statements into definite organisational actions. Additionally, the HR professionals must be focused in implementing the strategic actions.

In order to succeed in implementing the predetermined business and corporate strategies, Ulrich cites a number of tasks that HR professionals should focus. Examples of these tasks include talent management, integrated employee training, and labour cost management (Guzman, Lim & Briones 2010). Furthermore, Constance, Boroughs and Hunter (2012) opine that strategic partners should build a strong relationship with internal stakeholders. Ulrich (2013, p. 25) affirms that ‘the HR business partner acts as a single point of contact for internal clients’.

The change agent role is focused on initiating changes such as new procedures, processes, and programs in order to achieve the target goal. Furthermore, the change role also entails implementing the necessary structural changes such as quality improvement efforts, customer service delivery, and cost reduction measures (Ulrich 2013). Conversely, the administrative expert role emphasises on fostering organisational efficiency by re-engineering the various work processes in order to achieve the desired HR deliverables at the lowest possible cost. In order to execute this role, Ulrich asserts that HR professionals must apply their administrative expertise. Effective execution of the execution of the administrative expert role leads to successful re-engineering of business processes. The HR champion role asserts that HR professionals must improve the level of employee capability and commitment by appreciating and responding to their needs (Kenton & Yarnall, 2012).

Despite the clear definition of the HR roles, Ulrich model does not clearly outline the key role players who should be incorporated in order to deal with the challenges arising from the macro and micro business environment. On the contrary, the Ulrich model only focuses on defining the roles, the activities involved, and the desired HR deliverable. Therefore, his approach to the HR roles is relatively narrow, which might limit the effectiveness of dealing with challenges that emanate from the macro and micro business environments. Boroughs, Palmer, and Hunter (2008) are of the view that each role requires distinct skills in order to be implemented successfully. Therefore, it is imperative for HR professionals to integrate a fifth role [middle phase] by incorporating the key role players, consultative role, and tool/doer in order to enhance implementation of the HR roles. The conceptual framework below illustrates the improved version to the original Ulrich model that HR professionals should consider.

Theoretical weaknesses

Successful implementation of the HR roles stipulated by Ulrich depends on the contribution of the HR professionals as key role players. The executive team and the senior management team should be incorporated in the process of determining the most effective way to attain business strategy. Aswathappa (2013) cites line managers as one of the key players that HR managers must collaborate with in delivering the various roles stipulated by the Ulrich model. The role of line managers should not be limited to delivery of the administrative role. On the contrary, Aswathappa (2013, p.46) argues that line managers ‘can supply the necessary requirements and approval to the model and approaches HR uses to deliver an efficient service’.

Line managers play a fundamental role in the process of instigating, facilitating, and coordinating change programmes. Therefore, line managers can be defined as a delivery agent in implementing change. Furthermore, the contribution of line managers also enables organisations to implement the desired change due to their relationship with employees. Reilly and Williams (2006) assert that line managers interact directly with employees in their daily operations. Subsequently, their understanding of the employees’ attitudes and behaviour is higher as compared to the senior managers. The strong relationship developed between the line managers and employees means that the contribution of line managers in ensuring that employees are focused on attaining the stipulated business goal is high.

The model further ignores the contribution of internal consultants in the process of implementing the HR functions. It is imperative for internal and external consultants to collaborate in executing the HR role. Kenton and Yarnall (2012, p.7) contend that internal consultants ‘possess many of the skills deployed by their external counterparts’. Furthermore, internal consultants possess an additional advantage, as they understand the organisation’s internal structure, organisational culture, and business systems. However, the role of internal consultants in facilitating change is limited because their opinion and input are often overlooked and line managers tend to seek for external consultants.

Kenton and Yarnall (2012) assert that the contribution of internal consultants is affected by the fact that they are assigned mundane operational tasks. HR professionals should improve the contribution of the role of internal consultants by improving the micro-political landscape. The consultancy role should be developed internally by drawing internal consultants from the various internal professional service departments such as the Information Technology and the Human Resource departments. Incorporating the internal consultancy role will improve the effectiveness with which the organisations lead and influence change. The internal consultants will provide the necessary support in the acquisition and implementation of new skills.

HR professionals must foster a high level of interaction between the internal and external consultants. Despite their contribution in achieving business excellence, the internal consultants might not lack adequate knowledge on people management policies that might improve the firm’s ability to cope with challenges arising from the macro business environment. Therefore, the HR professionals should nurture a strong relationship between internal and extern HR specialists/consultants.

Practical weaknesses

Changes in the contemporary business environment require organisations to be very flexible in order to enhance their long-term survival. For example, the intensity of competition demands organisations to adopt effective strategic practices. Ulrich (2013, p.2) emphasises that HR ‘holds the key to success in overcoming major challenges facing executives’. However, Ulrich only describes the activities that HR professionals should consider in order to drive the attainment of business and corporate level strategies. The model fails to appreciate the importance of effective leadership in order to assist organisations succeed despite the challenges faced.

The current business environment is characterised by a high level of business partnerships. Different forms of business partnerships have been formulated over the years. One type of business partnerships that is extensively being practiced entails the formation of mergers and acquisitions, which is increasingly being perceived as an effective strategy in achieving synergy and growth. A study conducted by KPMG asserts that over 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver the desired benefits; moreover, over 50% of the mergers lead to the destruction of organisational value (Reilly & Williams 2006). This aspect highlights that the fact that the success of mergers and acquisition depends on the application of effective HR models.

Firms in different economic sectors appreciate the concept of mergers and acquisition in their strategy management practices. In order to illustrate the practical limitations of the Ulrich model, a case of two banks [Bank A and Bank B] that are currently in the process of implementing a merger and acquisition in order to gain market dominance is considered. The chance of the firms succeeding in attaining full integration by applying the Ulrich HR role model is limited. Despite the fact the Ulrich model cites culture shock as one element that should be considered in executing the change agent role, Ulrich does not highlight how HR professionals can deal with such shock through effective leadership. Muncherji, Krishnan, and Dhar (2009) assert that culture shock/culture clash is one of the major causes of failures in mergers and acquisition. Culture shock arises from the existence of differences between the organisational cultures involved in the merger and acquisition process. Furthermore, Muncherji, Krishnan, and Dhar (2009) are of the view that it is importance for HR professionals to determine the cultural fit between the two firms, which are involved in the merger.

The Ulrich model does not highlight how HR professionals can determine the degree of cultural fit. According to Sullivan (2004), determining the degree of cultural fit between two organisations can be attained by conducting due diligence, which involves extensive consultation between the HR professionals from the two entities involved in the merger. Prior to the commencement of the actual merger process, it is imperative for the HR professionals from the two banks to be involved in a comprehensive analysis of the two firms in order to determine the degree of cultural fit between the two organisations. Additionally, the HR professionals should collaborate with external HR consultants in order to identify possible risks that might hinder successful implementation of the merger.

In order to understand the cultural difference between the two organisations, the HR professions from the acquiring bank and the target bank should identify key players in order to develop an adequate intelligence on how to undertake the intended merger. Some of the key players who should be considered during the negotiation of the merger include the lower, middle, and top-level managers. Considering these key players will aid in the successful formulation of a merger and acquisition plan. Furthermore, ordinary level employees should not be ignored as they are charged with the responsibility of executing the day-to-day operations of the firm. Ignoring the lower level employees will lead to an ineffective application of the HR roles.

Ulrich asserts that HR professionals should be administrative experts, employee champions, change agents, and strategic partners. However, he does not appreciate the importance of adopting effective leadership styles in order to execute the diverse roles successfully. During the merger process, diverse elements are involved that requires HR professionals to be ‘doers’ rather than ‘dreamers’. Carleton (2004) asserts that ‘dreamers’ are very effective in coming up with new ideas, but they do not have adequate knowledge on the steps that should be taken in order to achieve the intended goal. On the contrary, doers are actively involved in implementing a particular project.

The proposition made by Ulrich model describes HR professionals as ‘dreamers’ in the process of implementing change. Therefore, the model is deficient in asserting the importance of active involvement of HR professionals in the change process. In order to enhance the likelihood of success in their merger process, the HR professionals from the two banks should position themselves as doers. This aspect will improve their ability to execute the HR roles stipulated by the Ulrich model, which include strategic partnership, administrative expert, change agent, and employee champion.


The Ulrich model is one of the most prominent HR models. The model classifies human resource roles into four main categories, which include strategic partner, change agent, employee champion, and administrative expert. However, the model is characterised by a number of theoretical and practical weaknesses. Some of the theoretical weaknesses entail its failure to recognise the importance of integrating key players, doers, and a consultative role. Subsequently, it fails to explain important aspects that HR professionals should consider in executing the various roles in order to enhance organisational performance and response to environmental changes. In order to improve its application, it is imperative for HR professionals to consider being key role players, foster development of an effective consultative environment by collaborating with external consultants, and being a doer. Incorporating these roles will improve the application of the model in assisting HR professionals to deal with real life business challenges.


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