A recent article in People Management points to the fact that it’s never been more important for HR to demonstrate commercial awareness. It calls on the profession to get more ‘business savvy’, joining the conversation about financial metrics and KPIs and improving its awareness of the external economic environment.


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The need for practitioners to improve their business acumen is backed up by a recent global survey from financial services consultancy Leathwaite, who found that commercialism was ranked second among the characteristics of successful HR directors (with leadership skills coming top).

If that’s not convincing enough, executive search firm Egon Zehnder suggest that HR folk may be missing out on the top jobs to candidates from outside the function. There are not yet enough senior HR leaders with enough business acumen to meet demand, they say, meaning that firms often look outside the specialism and ‘teach’ candidates HR rather than promoting from within.

Of course, it’s not all about the numbers – with contributors to the debate stressing that commercialism shouldn’t come at the expense of the ‘human side’. What HR really needs to do, suggests the article, is find the sweet spot where art and science intersect.

So if the quieter (for some) Summer period is giving you the chance to reflect and think about where your skills gaps may lie, here are some suggestions for Summer reading to update your knowledge and stimulate your thinking:

The Great Economists: How their ideas can help us today, Linda Yueh

If you’re feeling your general background knowledge about what makes the economy tick is a bit lacking, this book might be a good place to start. Economist and broadcaster Linda Yueh explains the key thoughts of history’s greatest economists, from Adam Smith and David Ricardo through to Douglass North and Robert Solow. She explains how their lives and times affected their ideas, how our lives have been influenced by their work – and most importantly how their thinking could help with the policy challenges we are faced with today. Food for thought, and targeted at a general audience with accessible language.

Brave New Work: Are you ready to reinvent your organisation? Aaron Digman

“What’s stopping you from doing the best work of your life?” is the question that Aaron Digman attempts to answer in this new book, which has made it onto the FT summer Book list for 2019. Bureaucracy, hierarchy and compliance is his short answer. Our organisations are broken, he says, and way we work is slowing us down and making us feel less human. The book argues that organizations aren’t machines to be predicted and controlled – they are complex human systems full of potential waiting to released. If that resonates, read on for Digman’s advice on how managers can reinvent the way they work, not through top-down mandates, but through creating a groundswell of autonomy, trust and transparency.

Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence, Mathew Donald

Automation, political turmoil and the climate crisis. Businesses are facing unparalleled levels of disruption and it’s impossible to know what the future will hold. In this new book, management academic Dr Mathew Donald provides practical insights and strategies to help managers and leaders future proof their organisations and prepare for disruption which is threatening large scale loss of jobs, occupations and even whole industries. He looks at the challenges of managing a modern workforce, covering topics ranging from how to upskill employees now in new skills like data analysis, through to adapting to the demands of a millennial workforce and building trust at times of change. The robots are coming …… worth a read if you’re feeling unprepared.

Speak Up: Say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard, Professor Megan Reitz and John Higgins

One in four junior employees think they would be punished if they spoke up about a problem at work. Eight per cent of employees are keeping quiet about something they know will harm the business. Only half of employees feel able to share an idea which might benefit the organisation. These are some of the stark statistics that provide the backdrop to this new book, which looks at what stops people speaking up and being heard, and how bosses or colleagues might (often inadvertently) be silencing others. Authors Reitz and Higgins examine the business imperatives for breaking down silence, citing recent scandals (VW emissions, financial misreporting, doping in sport, sexual misconduct in Hollywood), all of which were enabled in part by corporate cultures of silence and complicity. They argue for the creation of workplaces where openness and transparency are valued – and give practical advice on how we can facilitate dialogue, listen more effectively and manage the risks of speaking up.

Building an Inclusive Organization: Leveraging the power of a diverse workforce, Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina

Diverse teams are proven to have better engagement, productivity and decision making – yet many organisations are still paying lip service to the concept, being driven by compliance rather than seeing diversity as a force for success. This new book from diversity and inclusion experts Frost and Alidina is a practical guide which explains how organisations can embrace inclusivity as a positive move, rather than just aiming to avoid negative publicity. Embedding inclusion into the culture, removing unconscious bias from recruitment and selection and building a workforce without ‘blind spots’ in their decision-making are among the issues covered. It promises practical tools, nudges and techniques as well as case studies from organisations including Lego, the BBC, Uber and the NHS.

Happy reading – and if you have any other recommendations, we’d love to hear them.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.