HR is constantly changing – there’s always new practices to keep on top of, and new policies to get up to speed with. But with so much of your time devoted to supporting and developing other people, do you get much time to think about your own development?
With this in mind, we’ve hand-picked five very different books that will appeal to the diverse interests of HR people, written by experts in their respective fields. Here are our top five books for HR professionals:
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley (Allen Lane)
“You are a mind reader, born with an extraordinary ability to understand what others think, feel, believe, want, and know.” We’re officially intrigued.
Penned by Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioural Sciences at Chicago’s prestigious Booth School of Business, Mindwise takes an in-depth look at humanity’s “real sixth sense” – (no, not seeing dead people) our capacity for reading the minds and emotions of the people we meet every day.
Thankfully for those of us who don’t have a PhD in Psychology, Mindwise doesn’t get bogged down in the sort of complex neuroscientific details that would generally go straight over the heads of most ‘normal’ readers. Accessible and well written, this illuminating book is largely constructed from case studies of social psychology experiments and observations, complimented by personal anecdotes.
Taking a closer look at practices that help people to interpret what others are thinking and feeling without being directly told – reading their body language or practicing empathy, for example – Epley challenges the widely accepted theories that make up what you thought you knew about understanding other people. And as you would expect, egocentrism and stereotyping are just two of many barriers that get in the way of our ability to read others.
As an HR person, with the welfare of your company’s workforce under your careful watch, it can be hard to avoid making blanket assumptions about groups of employees, such as “this is better for millennials, whilst generation x prefer that…” But Mindwise will have you revaluating the way you think about your workforce, the way you think about what your workforce are thinking, and the way you think about thinking about what your workforce are thinking, and so on…
Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World by John P. Kotter (Harvard Business Review Press)
Authored by the youngest person to ever have been awarded a full professorship at Harvard Business School, John Kotter’s Accelerate is the leadership and management expert’s nineteenth book in forty years, and is based on his 2012 McKinsey Award-winning HBR article, ‘Accelerate!”
“This is a book about pioneers, for pioneers.” So goes the opening sentence of this ambitious leadership manual, for which only the top 1% of performers were observed during the research process. From his research, Kotter identified the progress limitations attached to the hierarchical frameworks that the majority of organisations subscribe to, and thus how organisations of any size, shape, and form can move quickly and adapt to “tumultuous change and growing uncertainties” in the competitive, global marketplace.
As anyone who has ever worked for a large company (with few exceptions) will tell you, big businesses aren’t great at responding to change quickly; there is often miles of red tape to navigate, and multiple people who need to sign off on a new process, product, or practice before it can become an actuality. On the other end of the spectrum, start-ups and entrepreneurial SMEs are, more often than not, much quicker at implementing changes within the business as and when needed, chiefly due to the absence of bureaucracy. In Accelerate (XLR8), Kotter calls for a “dual operating system” – the traditional organisational hierarchy found in most organisations past the start-up stage, co-existing with the more agile, network-like structure of younger companies.
With debates continuing to rage regarding HR’s place in the business (some are quick to condemn the profession for supposedly lacking business sense, whilst others say HR needs to stay separate from the number-crunching of the boardroom) Accelerate provides food for thought on how HR can work with senior management to introduce and implement practices that can drive employee engagement and productivity, as well as revenue.
The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems by Lynda Gratton (McGraw-Hill Professional)
For most of you, Lynda Gratton needs no introduction. Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School, where she directs what is widely considered to be the world’s leading human resources program, Gratton is an internationally recognised HR guru. Her eight books have been translated into 15 different languages, and she has won major prizes for her work in four continents. Her eighth book, The Key, is the product of impeccably researched insights into more than twenty companies from around the globe.
In The Key, Gratton marries the most unlikely of pairings: big corporations, and saving the world. Setting out how and why corporations can and should actively involve themselves in tackling the world’s most prevalent issues – such as climate change, income equality, and world poverty – The Key is a persuasive call to arms for large organisations to harness their unique power to bring about real world change.
With a name like The Key, Gratton’s latest book makes the implied (and potentially audacious) claim of unlocking the answers to “the world’s toughest problems,” but it does not disappoint. Gratton’s key – constructed from plausible theories and approaches grounded in thoroughly researched case studies – has the potential to unlock the most consequential of doors (or lock them up, whichever way you choose to look at it). But whilst the claim on the font cover may be bold, the book’s contents are firmly rooted in reality; the overarching message of the book is divided into three easily digestible strands with advice on implementation: building resilience through internal company practices, anchoring the business in the community, and addressing global challenges.
If you work in HR, there’s a good chance that you got into the profession because you a) love people, and b) wanted to make a difference on an individual, human level. Although the idea of solving climate change may make you feel a little bit out of your depth, The Key recognises the crucial importance of small changes that both employees and business leaders can make to bring about momentous results.
Creatvity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unforseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (Bantam Press)
The release of a new Pixar movie is global event. The world-renowned animation studio have built a reputation as one of the most creative and innovative storytellers in the film industry based on an almost-faultless (ahem, Cars 2) record of releases that charm audiences of all ages. Pixar’s first picture in 1995, Toy Story, revolutionised the art of animation, and since then the studio have procured 27 Oscars, 7 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammy’s for their critically acclaimed and record-breaking features and shorts.
Creativity, Inc. author and Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, is the man responsible for developing the technology that has made Pixar’s films possible. He has, since the company’s birth in 1986, spent his career cultivating the creative abilities of his employees. In the book – which has been shortlisted for the 2014 FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award – Catmull takes you into the heart of Pixar Animation Studios, sharing his approach to managing innovation and building the sort of creative culture that has set the company apart from all other animation and film studios as the most consistently original.
Throughout Creativity, Inc., Catmull addresses the fragility of the creative process, attributing success to something impossible to formulate – people: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” Filled with anecdotes that will excite both the HR professional and the child inside you, Creativity, Inc. is hugely entertaining for anyone who loves Pixar movies (and honestly, who doesn’t?), as well as those interested in developing staff and leaders – particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the creative sectors.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (Portfolio Penguin)
Following on from his two hugely popular and inspirational TED Talks, which between them have amassed a staggering 21.4 million views at the time of writing, and his first book, Start With Why, the unstoppable Simon Sinek’s returned to bookshelves earlier this year with his latest offering, Leaders Eat Last. Taken from a story featured in his TED Talk entitled ‘Why good leaders make you feel safe’ (which you can read more about here – link to TED blog), the book’s title alludes to a tradition in the Marines whereby the officer eats last – a symbolic gesture of sacrificing oneself for the welfare of the team.
In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek tracks down the elusive it factor that, when present, can create teams so strong that they would risk life and limb for each other, or, in its absence, fall apart at the first signs of stormy weather. Sinek argues that the modern business environment is a hothouse for unnecessary competition and distrust, where passing the buck to save one’s own skin has become commonplace – and this is why people don’t go to work feeling inspired and supported. Why has this become the norm? Because good leaders are in short supply – it is their behaviour, Sinek argues, that makes up the foundation of any good working environment.
As with his TED Talks and his previous book, Sinek employs colourful examples from across a host of industries, from the military to banking, bringing life to his theories on leadership and teamwork. Amongst many others, Apple, Walmart, and the US Congress, all come under the microscope, and are pulled apart as Sinek identifies exactly what it is that makes successful, and unsuccessful leaders and ideal working environment.
Drawing on approaches to leadership from studies in business, economics, anthropology, sociology, and even human biology, Leaders Eat Last will speak to HR people from all manner of backgrounds. Wide-ranging and provocative, you will speed through this book, but its ideas will stay with you for a long time.