Dave Ulrich’s Roles of Human Resource Managers


Dave Ulrich et al. (1997, p.2) outline four general roles of HR managers in organisations. These roles include championing the rights of employees, creating strategic partnerships, acting as a change agent and propelling expertise in administration (Ulrich & Brockbank 2005, p.4). For over 15 years, Ulrich’s theory has been the centre of influence in HR development. Nevertheless, it is important to note that there have been major transformations in organisations that call for the need to develop and establish more efficient roles. Upcoming scholars often question the validity of the model in the contemporary business world (Antila & Kakkonen 2008, p.282). Although this theory has been very influential and widely used in organisations, it is important to investigate and evaluate the roles outlined in the model in order nominate the most prominent ones and add value to the theory.

Importance of Evaluating the Four Roles of HR Managers According to David Ulrich’s Theory and Model

Ulrich et al. (1995, p.476) observe that the theory mainly focuses on the major areas of HR functionality such as relationship with employees, organisational development and recruitment. The theory is very categorical on the roles or tasks of HR managers. However, it does not point out that there are inconceivable pressures in organisations occasioned by rapid changes in technology, globalisation and stiff competition. Therefore, organisations have embarked on new methods of assigning roles, forging alliances and formulating structures as well as hierarchies (Ulrich et al. 2007, p.4). Currently, there is a rapid rate of change taking place within the workforce thereby compelling organisations to alter their functions in regards to human resource management. This explains why there is critical need to re-examine the Ulrich’s Model since HR functions must be modified accordingly in order to help organisations to navigate and adapt to the emerging transitions and challenges.

Caldwell (2003, p. 985) admits that human resource managers should improve their real and perceived values. Therefore, there is a critical need to evolve some of their roles. It is necessary to redefine the HR roles in order to facilitate competitive outcomes owing to the frequent transitions and evolutionary changes taking place in organisations (Whittaker & Marchington 2003, p.246). Due to organisational changes, one of the most prominent roles of an HR manager is to forge business partnerships (Erasmus, Loedolff & Hammann, 2010). The remaining roles may be gradually assigned to other qualified members in an organisation.

The evaluation of the Ulrich’s model will add value to the theory in various ways. To begin with, it will enable the theorist to redefine the roles of HR managers in order to ensure that they are directly connected to the short and long term business needs (Antila 2006, p.999). This will also ensure that HR managers are directly involved in understanding and developing business plans alongside providing the much-needed support at workplace.


In addition, it is important to note that the roles expressed in the model are not unique because they apply to all employees in an organisation (Ulrich 1995, p.13). In actual sense, some HR personnel can hardly be business partners. Therefore, evaluating the model will assist in formulating and updating the unique roles of HR managers (Renwick, 2003).

In recap, Ulrich’s theory on the roles of HR managers is still applicable in most modern organisations. However, these roles have continued to evolve since business ideals are changing at a dramatic pace. In other words, the human aspect of business has become increasingly competitive.


Antila, E. M 2006, ‘The role of HR managers in international mergers and acquisitions: a multiple case study’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 999-1020.

Antila, E. M., & Kakkonen, 2008, ‘Factors affecting the role of HR managers in international mergers and acquisitions: A multiple case study’, Personnel Review, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 280-299.

Caldwell, R 2003, ‘The changing roles of personnel managers: old ambiguities, new uncertainties’, Journal of Management Studies, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 983-1004.

Erasmus, B, Loedolff, V.P, & Hammann, F. 2010, ‘Competencies For Human Resource Development Practitioners’, The International Business & Economics Research Journal, vol. 9, no. 8, pp. 113-126.

Renwick, D 2003, ‘HR managers: guardians of employee wellbeing? Personnel Review, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 341-359.

Ulrich, D 1995, ‘Shared services: From vogue to value’, Human Resource Planning, vol. 18, no. 3, pp.12–22.

Ulrich, D, & Brockbank, W 2005, The HR value proposition, Harvard Business Press, New York.

Ulrich, D, Brockbank, W, Yeung, A. K, & Lake, DG 1995, ‘Human resource competencies: An empirical assessment’, Human Resource Management, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 473-495.

Ulrich, D, Brockbank, W., Johnson, D, & Younger, J 2007, ‘Human resource competencies: Responding to increased expectations’, Employment Relations Today, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 1–12.

Whittaker, S, & Marchington, M 2003, ‘Devolving HR responsibility to the line: threat, opportunity or partnership?, Employee Relations, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 245-261.

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