A mass of information is produced every day about the people side of organizational management. In order to keep writing this blog, I read much of it. Since organizations all dealing with many of the same issues, the content can be repetitive. Quite often, common sense is positioned as enlightenment.
Occasionally, something comes around that puts a new spin on an old problem, offers a unique perspective or proposes a different kind of solution. When that happens, reading is elevated from necessity to pleasure. Here are a few of my favorite HR (and HR related) reads from 2014.
The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh
In this book, the authors argue that the only workable employee-employer relationship today is one forged around a mutually beneficial alliance with multiple, clearly defined “tours of duty.” The alliance itself is a commitment by an employee to add value to the company for a specified period of time and a commitment by the company to add to the employee’s market value over the same time period. Within this alliance, each tour of duty represents an “an ethical commitment by an employer and an employee to a specific mission.” Unlike a tour of duty in the military (where the term originated) there is no legal requirement for either side to deliver on promises made. There is, however, a moral obligation to meet the terms of each tour of duty and to honor the broader alliance forged to benefit both parties.
There is no question that the fundamentals of the employee-employer relationship have changed over the past few decades. Employers no longer even pretend to offer job security and, in return, employee loyalty to a particular company is rare. This book offers one possible approach to forging a new kind of relationship between organizations and workers—based on the willing participation of two parties who both bring recognized value to a respectful alliance.
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
I decided to re-read Blink in 2104. I’ve always been fascinated by the way our brains can both rescue us and sabotage us in the name of efficiency. The same subconscious processes that save us from getting hit by a truck or help us avoid a scam also pre-wire us to jump to conclusions, embrace stereotypes and reject ideas that don’t fit nicely into our pre-conceived boxes. Although it focuses on people’s innate ability to respond with intuitive wisdom based on just a “thin slice” of information, this book reminds us not only of the advantages of our amazing ability to “think without thinking,” but also of the potential pitfalls.
Thinking in New Boxes by Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny
Sharing some of the same ideas expressed in Blink, Brabandere and Iny offer a little more practical advice for avoiding the limitations of the boxes that confine our thinking. They begin by explaining why these boxes are an essential tool in managing the overwhelming volume of information that surrounds us every day. In fact, without our perceptual boxes, we would be buffeted mercilessly by a storm of input—much like trying to navigate the deck of a ship during a gale! They propose a five step approach that involves recognizing, modifying and replacing boxes, rather than abandoning them. To combat the limitations of our mental boxes, without losing the necessary structure we need to function amidst the noise, they define this five step process for “thinking in new boxes:”
- Doubt everything: challenge you current perspectives.
- Probe the possible: explore options around you.
- Diverge: generate many new and exciting ideas.
- Converge: evaluate and select the ideas that will drive breakthrough results.
- Re-evaluate: No idea is a good idea forever. Relentlessly re-evaluate.
The Science of Leadership by Dr. Julian Barling. Dr. Barling is the Borden Professor of Leadership at the Queen’s University School of Business, and also holds a Queen’s Research Chair. He has dedicated much of his academic life to the study of leadership: what works, what doesn’t and whether or not leadership is teachable. In the Science of Leadership, he doesn’t dwell on one specific theory of leadership, rather he explores what we know to be true about leadership based on the body of research available on the subject.
Dr. Barling offers systematic, evidence-based commentary on modern leadership theories, how leadership works, the importance of good leadership, the impact of bad leadership, and whether leadership development efforts make a difference. He identifies gender and leadership as a “major organization and social issue” that warrants more attention and devotes a chapter to its discussion. Dr. Barling concludes by identifying gaps in current leadership research, ranging from “Leadership and Followership” to “Neuroscience, Genetics and the Biology of Leadership.” If you’re interested in testing what you thought you knew about leadership, this book is well worth digging into.
These are just a few of the books I managed to read (or re-read) in 2014 that offered something a little out of the ordinary, gave me food for thought or challenged my assumptions in some way. Of course, for every book consumed these days, I read, view or listen to hundreds of other pieces of content online. Most of them stream together in my mind in one uniform flow of data. The exceptions are what keep me searching, learning and writing.
If you’ve read, viewed or listened to something exceptional related to HR lately, please share by leaving a comment.
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