This could be you this holiday. Spectacles optional. Photo: Shutterstock

Thursday 3rd December 2015

Christmas by the book

Which reads should HR people ask Santa for this year?

We asked twelve of HR’s brightest and best to recommend a book every HR person should have in their stocking this year. The variety is astounding – everything from textbooks to memoirs, novels to fables, history to etiquette. In other words, something to suit everyone this holiday season. If you try one, let us know what you think.

Dave Ulrich, professor, author, speaker, management coach and consultant

51cg0Q42gJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In 2015, I did two books: Rise of HR, which consists of short, pithy essays on where HR is headed, written by 73 thought leaders. I also wrote the Leadership Capital Index, which is about showing investors the quality of leadership in ways that affect market value. There are many great authors whose books I admire – Ed Lawler has identified leading organization and HR trends for over 40 years. His latest book, The Agility Factor, captures the requirements of organizations to operate more quickly. Consistent with all of Ed’s books, he combines innovative ideas with specific cases and tools.

Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD

41ul7iTz6wL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_I would recommend Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics and is one of the godfathers of behavioural economics, a field we can learn much from in HR. The book describes many decades of research into human behaviour and decision-making. It is so important for HR and L&D to go back to the science of human and organisational behaviour as the roots of our profession and to re-examine our processes, practices, and policies more in this light. Kahneman’s book is brilliantly written, engaging and provides lots of practical insights of which we all need to take more heed.

Prof Sir Cary Cooper, CBE, Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health

41oFKag8PqL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I suggest a fiction book that highlights the issues of mental wellbeing and stress in the workplace. It is Something Happened by Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22). Heller had worked in a company before he began his writing career, and this book explores in a humorous way the stress and strains of the modern workplace as he experienced it. Given that mental wellbeing at work is a major HR issue of our times, understanding the drivers of this is important, and many of these are illustrated in his characters throughout the book. Aside from being a great piece of fiction, it brings to life the sources of pressure on people in today’s workplace.

Steve Rockey, Head of People, Big Easy Restaurants

510ViFJ1sDL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_I love a bit of Malcolm Gladwell – he really gets me thinking. In his latest book David & Goliath he examines the struggles of the ‘weak’ against the ‘strong’ and how the underdog actually has some real advantages. It gets you thinking about how, in a small or medium sized business, you might not have much budget, infrastructure or even full technical know-how, but if you think about what you do have then you can really stick it to the big guys.

Helen Rosethorn, Partner, Prophet

41LIL32tdCL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_My recommended read is Alfred Lansing’s story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic overland, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic.  However, it is not the failure that captivates you when you read this book but the extraordinary drive for survival and, particularly, the brilliant leadership of Shackleton. What is particularly fascinating is the way in which he managed the culture of his expedition – from the way he selected his crew through to how, when all hope seemed lost, he gave his men, many of whom were ready to throw in the towel, the purpose to battle on. I like a happy ending – perhaps this one in some ways is not that happy as Shackleton did not return a hero. In fact, he was castigated by many for his ‘indulgence’. (Back home, we had gone to war.) However, I have to admit when he finally reaches safety and knocks on the door of that whaling station on South Georgia, I had a tear in my eye.

Gavin Anderson, Chief Creative Officer, ThirtyThree

I was once given a great piece of advice that there is no need to read any business, leadership or management books. Simply read Alfred Lansing’s version of Shackleton’s expedition (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic) and take what you can from that.

Martyn Dicker, HR Director at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation

41QG6BGKCqL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Good to Great by Jim Collins is a must-have stocking filler. It’s the book that introduced us to focusing on talent before strategy, getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off it. It also challenges many preconceptions about successful leaders, advising us that the most successful are in fact self-effacing, quiet and reserved, and demonstrate personal humility. They look out of the window to apportion credit for success, and look in the mirror to apportion responsibility for failure. It provides a great lesson for those in HR that love a policy a bit too much – with disciplined people you don’t need hierarchy, with disciplined thought you don’t need bureaucracy, with disciplined action you don’t need excessive controls. And finally, don’t forget, good is the enemy of great!

Nick Holmes, CEO, TheJobPost

51uOofCxsCL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_If your brain needs to go somewhere far away from work and constant stimuli, this book will take you there. Fire Season by Philip Connors is the story of a Wall Street Journal reporter who hikes out of the fast lane of life to spend a summer watching a swathe of territory for forest fires in New Mexico. The way he describes beauty, danger and solitude takes you with him, and generates some compelling questions about what connections each of us really needs to be fulfilled. Massively recommended for anyone with a soul.

Eugenio Pirri, Vice President, People and OD at Dorchester Collection

51nHPbzYrfL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_We live in a world where we are constantly connected to others. Whether that’s in person, on the phone, through email or over social media, we are required to interact and communicate with a whole range of people and personalities. As such, we must learn how to engage them in different ways. That said, I truly believe there is a common language, which is good manners: being polite, kind, listening and open. These are the basis of good etiquette, though sadly not everyone possesses these skills. Every year I recommend The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Cecil. B. Hartley to colleagues and friends because it is a simple and fun guide to politeness and manners, the foundation of all good work and good relationships. Yes, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek at times, but ultimately it’s filled with many nuggets of advice that will take you far in your career.

Jane Sunley, CEO and Founder, Purple Cubed

41dDLyuJcUL._SX378_BO1,204,203,200_Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are the new norms for any business leader. As such, managers who want to survive and thrive need to change their mindsets and habits in order to embrace a new way of leading, engaging and relating to their people. In Flawed But Willing, Khurshed Dehnugara (who also co-wrote the fabulous Challenger Spirit, another must-read) makes the case for authenticity, resilience and, most importantly, courage. Any reader will find their thinking challenged and be left more determined, more knowledgeable and more resilient.

Myles Downey, business coach, thought-leader and innovator

51uQyoLbW-L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_The book I propose is Linchpin by Seth Godin. Godin is known as the biggest business blogger in the world and a much sought-after speaker and commentator. He is also the author of multiple bestsellers, including Tribes. I am proposing this book because I believe that if organisations are to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century (engagement, performance, innovation) then we need to re-examine our thinking on people, talent, excellence, leadership and management. The HR community should be at the forefront of that examination. Godin’s book, if somewhat populist in tone, is an unrivalled cry for individual responsibility and excellence – until the uniqueness of each individual is acknowledged, people management processes will remain unchanged and stifling.

Esther O’Halloran, HR Consultant and Business Coach

51KCjbEaoLL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My choice would be A Peacock in the Land of Penguins by BJ Gallagher. I’ve loved this book ever since I used it as part of my resignation in 1999. Perry is a fabulous peacock who is recruited into the organisation of penguins, but after a while they try to make him more like them… It’s a fable about diversity, reminding you that everyone has something unique about them and what they bring to organisations. That’s why you recruit them in the first place. It’s also about not forcing people to change who they are, but allowing them to be creative and courageous.

About the author

Andrew Baird

Andrew is the CEO of HRville. He is also Employer Brand Director of Blackbridge Communications, Editorial Director of Professionals in Law and an associate of The Smarty Train. Previously, he was the MD of TCS Advertising.