Top 5 books all HR professionals should read

Vanessa Ng

HR professionals form the core of the company for culture to be formed and built on. Having engaged and satisfied employees require consistent and active effort from not just HR, but also all other employees spreading across various functions. If you are craving for some insight on means of investing in human capital, aligning HR best practices with business strategies, or creating a conducive workplace culture, read on.

1. Aligning Human Resources and Business Strategy by Linda Holbeche

Knowing where HR stands in the entire corporation as a whole is crucial. The initiatives directed by HR strategists should ideally be aligned with core corporate strategies and value add to the business. HR should not be seen as a cost center, but as a strategic partner.

Areas ranging from recruitment, retention, employee development and succession planning are just some areas that need to be aligned with the company’s business strategy. If you are looking for case studies of successfully implemented HR strategies such as that in Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) policies, organizational design, retention of high flyers internationally and core competency approaches, look no further than Aligning Human Resources and Business Strategy. Holbeche not only introduces a useful set of tools to align HR with business objectives, but also expounds on the means to achieve that. If you are a HR professional who is trying to prevent budget cuts for the fiscal year, or if you want to show the importance of your job function to the top management, this book can give you persuasive examples and evidence of the merits behind an effective people strategy.

Additionally, if you enjoyed reading her book, you can also check out her earlier work titled Motivating People in Lean Organizations.

2. Creating a Kaizen Culture: Align the Organization, Achieve Breakthrough Results, and Sustain the Gains by J. Miller, M. Wroblewski, J. Villafuerte

Created by the Japanese, the Kaizen culture has helped many employees develop behaviour that achieves high levels of performance, excellence and adaptability. The culture, in short, is about a continuous improvement and propulsion of working practices, employee personal efficiency and more.

Co-written by leaders in the Kaizen Institute with over 50 years of combined experience, the book emphasizes on the need for effective leaders to actively turn the Kaizen culture into a competitive advantage. The Kaizen culture is broken down comprehensively such that it is easy for everyone to practise it anywhere, every day. Interestingly, the authors explore the often neglected emotional growth as opposed to technical maturity behind transforming a culture. Case studies of real-world Kaizen implementation in organizations across multiple industries and sizes are also explored. Readers can look forward to a detailed road map with genuine examples from big corporations such as Toyota, Zappos, Wiremold and more. If you a HR professional who is keen to kickstart your company’s Kaizen journey, the segment on organizational readiness for Kaizen transformation will be useful.

3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins 

A company that is staying ahead of competition will be built to last. Traditional cornerstones of HR such as leadership and having a dream team will be covered in this book. Cultural characteristics, business decisions relating to technology and vision that is critical for success will also be discussed.

Good to Great reminds us to not settle for underperforming teams, business practices or results despite how tempting it can be. In fact, sustainable performance can be built into the company right from the beginning to prevent failure. Readers can learn about Level 5 Leaders, Hedgehog Concept, Culture of Discipline, Flywheel and Doom Loop. This book is a great keep to bookmark and reread with fresh perspectives over time to gain new insights.

4. Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives (2nd Edition) by Wayne Cascio, John Boudreau

Investing in People elaborates in-depth about how to decide, conduct and select metrics to improve decision-making and optimize organizational effectiveness. The book centers on methods for HR to demonstrate how their practice translates into performance. An example would be the section on means of tracking the effectiveness of talent policies and practices. Such human capital metrics can be measured through the ‘LAMP’ methodology (Logic, Analytics, Measures, and Process) and can help in decision making for various strategic areas as well. Expect a variety of topics not limited to hiring, training, absenteeism, retention and engagement.

This book provides powerful logic and proven financial techniques. Crucial foundational principles such as risk, return, as well as economies of scale to enable an objective evaluation of HR investments are also explored. The authors also delves into approaches to integrate HR with enterprise strategy and getting commitment from stakeholders outside HR.

5. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

In order for employees to feel engaged, they often need to identify and understand the meaning of their work. This is where HR steps in to help employees connect the dots to see the bigger overall picture. Inspired by how leaders influence others by navigating them around the ‘why’, this book is packed with comprehensive real-life stories, in addition to a powerful framework known as ‘The Golden Circle’ upon which organizations can be built. The ‘why’ extends beyond making profits, and explores the reason behind what employees do, as well as how they are doing it. If you are looking to increase employee loyalty, or to better lead your team, this is the book to turn to. If you lack time, try focusing on just the first half of the book, which spans across about 100 pages, as it explains the overall concept about Start with Why.

6. BONUS: WORK RULES!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

A compelling book, Bock seeks to inspire us to change the way we work. With work taking up a large portion of our lives, this book can be potentially life changing. Tapping onto resources for both behavioural economics as well as human psychology, WORK RULES! shares seemingly counter-intuitive principles and action items to better the workplace environment. Examples from a large spectrum of industries are also provided so that HR professionals from various sectors can benefit. As opposed to a top-down approach, the book prioritizes the need to improve a company from within. Quality of life and other qualitative factors are ranked as more crucial than straightforward and traditional measurements such as market share or profit.

At least one of the six books listed above should pique your interest. Start reading a few pages a day during your daily commute, or take 5 minutes out of your social media networking sites to flip through a couple of pages. Reading is a habit that can be developed. Good luck!

(By Vanessa Ng)

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