Saturday, 25 February 2017

June / July 2016 Reading

Playing blogging catchup ... some notes from books I was reading last year...

Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital by John Boudreaux and Peter Ramstad

Written in 2007 ..from the preface “This book describes our vision of a future where the issues of talent and how it is organised get the attention they deserve, the kind of deep and logical attention worthy of a resource that’s vital to strategic success.”

In the book the authors argue for a new decision science for HR and provide frameworks to guide its introduction.  They note that rather than having a clear focus on business strategy outcomes the HR function is instead focussed on score cards that focus on costs and activities… HR cost per unit of revenue, ratio of total headcount to HR headcount etc

They make the interesting observation that in the early 200’s lots of organisations adopted performance management systems that were based on stack ranking ( 20% top performers, 70% middle, 10% low).  What could the strategic or economic shift be that caused all of these companies to adopt the same approach?  Answer of course is that it was actually the publication of Jack Welch’s book on management at GE which included this approach.  GE was successful, we want to be successful so we should have the same performance management approach seemed to be what happened.  What was it though about finance and marketing departments that meant they weren’t expected to adopt GE’s approach in those disciplines - why the focus on HR.  Could it be down to a lack of frameworks in HR for determining how decisions like this should be taken?  

I also particularly liked when they suggested that organisations should ask themselves how worried they would be if their competitors had a copy of the company's HR strategy?  How would that feel compared to them having a copy of the finance or marketing strategy?   If you aren't as concerned about the HR strategy being known does that say something about how strategic you view it to be?

Human Resources in the 21st Century edited by Marc Effron, Robert Gandossy and Marshall Goldsmith

The book is a collection of chapters by different authors drawn from the editors' contact lists.   The theme is around how HR will change as it comes to terms with forces that are driving change across the corporate world.  Issues of speed, technology, complexity, globalisation, demographics etc all substantial changes to the dynamics of organisations.  How will HR evolve and morph in the 21st Century.  Includes a chapter by IBM’s Randy MacDonald, as I read more books in this area it is interesting how often I come across case studies/quotes/chapters relating to IBM.

Is this the End of HR? by Stan Davis p 240   Talks about how in the mid 1960s industrial relations was starting to morph into personnel.  The shift in wording linking to a more enlightened era for company’s approaches to the people who worked there.  “Industrial Relations” had been the theme since unions were formed around the 1920’s-1930’s.   From then through to the 60’s the concern of firms was on their “labour relations”.  In the 60’s we see emergence of a focus both on the administration of employees entitlements - pensions, benefits etc and a focus on training and development for the staff.  The personnel label lasts through to the 1980’s where we see emergence of human relations.  Here again the name change reflects a shift in attitude.  Underlying philosophy now recognises that employees are very important to the success of an organisation.  “Trust, cooperation, and Theory Y replaced confrontation, negotiation, and Theory X."

How to Manage by Jo Owen

I was asked to read this book as part of the Chartered Management Institute’s Management Book of the Year award.  I liked it and was pleased to see it make it onto the shortlist for the Practical Manager category.

The book covers 3 areas of management, providing sensible advice in each.
  • Rational Management concerns the skills to deal with problems, tasks and money
  • Emotional Management concerns the skills to deal with people
  • Political Management concerns how you acquire the power to make things happen
The author’s thesis is that all three are needed for success and that all can be developed.  Concepts are presented but the clear focus is on the practical challenges faced by managers and what steps can be taken in response, this is particularly true in the section on political management.   The writing is clear, succinct and refreshingly candid, which means that a lot of valuable advice and guidance is fitted into the text.  Relevant mini case studies are included to illustrate key points and demonstrate how the concepts can be applied.   I would certainly recommend this book to anyone starting out in management and to anyone with experience of the role who wanted to take a step back and consider how to further develop their capabilities.

One sentence I particularly liked on the importance of keeping things simple ... “The best strategic thinking is very simple: clever people make things complicated; really clever people make things simple.”

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