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HR Magazine Book Blog

2014 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work

Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management, 2014
134 pages
List price: $21.95
ISBN: 978-1-888324-62-4

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This easy-to-use guidebook profiles innovative workplace practices from 297 employers, all recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility.
The awards are part of the “When Work Works” initiative by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute. The initiative provides best practices, resources and research about flexibility in the workplace.
The book includes a brief overview of the characteristics of effective workplaces. Those characteristics include support from supervisors, autonomy, jobs that provide challenges and learning, a climate of respect and trust, good work/life balance, and economic security.
Profiled employers range from CPAs and consultant KPMG, with more than 22,000 employees, to the Minnesota government’s Winona Workforce Center with just 12 employees. A wide variety of industries are featured, including utilities, medical practices, insurers, software firms, manufacturers and more.
Among the best practices showcased:
--     A credit union provides computer literacy training to older employees who need it, and flexible schedules for employees who are attending college or other educational programs.
--     A freight logistics firm interviews every veteran who applies, and offers resume help even if the firm isn’t the right fit for that applicant. Another hallmark of the firm’s practices: It gives four weeks of paternity leave, at 100 percent of pay for two weeks and 60 percent for the second two weeks.
--     A marketing business provides a “food coach” to advise employees on nutrition, a child care room and bonus days off for participating in workplace wellness programs.
--     A utility company, facing the retirements of a large percentage of its workforce in coming years, is emphasizing succession planning and mentoring while offering flexible work programs to attract new employees.
--     A technology consulting firm finds that its flexible work programs are reducing turnover and improving morale. The firm also offers a “reduced work program” to let older employees ease into retirement gradually and a wellness program that has reduced overall health care costs.
--     A convention and visitors’ bureau found that some employees’ jobs just couldn’t be done via telecommuting, so the bureau pays those office workers an extra $100 a month and also encourages them to use paid time off to get out of the office.

Managers as Mentors
By Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith
Berrett-Koehler, 2013
237 pages
List price: $22.95
ISBN: 978-1-60994-710-1

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This is the newest edition of a best-seller, revised with new case studies and tools to help managers develop the mentor-protégé relationship with key employees. The changes in the new edition are extensive, with a dozen new chapters and the addition of contributions from prolific business author Marshall Goldsmith.
Managers as Mentors is a practical how-to guide for building the mentoring relationship over time. Goldsmith and Bell construct the mentoring experience around an idea they call SAGE:
--Surrendering power so that mentoring isn’t about authority.
--Accepting each other, especially so that the protégé feels there is no criticism or judgment in the relationship with the mentor.
--Gifting, in which the mentor freely gives feedback and advice.
--Extending, which means nurturing the protégé into a “self-directed learner” who goes beyond the relationship with the mentor to expand his or her experiences.
With this structure in mind, Bell and Goldsmith first discuss what mentoring is and isn’t, and what pitfalls to avoid. They introduce a fictional mentoring case study, letting readers sit in on mentoring sessions between a mentor and protégé. They follow this case study throughout the book, adding real-life examples along the way from organizations as diverse as nonprofit charities, a large insurance firm and a restaurant chain.
Would-be mentors get a questionnaire for figuring out their particular mentoring talents. The authors provide steps for starting a mentoring relationship and building trust. A chapter on humility looks at “ways to narrow the emotional distance between mentor and protégé” so that the relationship isn’t rooted in power. Another chapter is devoted to helping the protégé overcome the anxiety that is common when a protégé is faced with learning from a boss or from a peer who is a subject expert.
Lessons for both mentors and protégés include:
--Learning to ask meaningful questions that elicit insightful answers.
--Learning to listen. Readers of earlier editions indicated that the section on listening may be the most useful in the book. Ideas for active listening include staying focused on being focused, mirroring the protégé’s points and not offering advice until you first hear what the other person would do.
--Understanding why giving advice can be “one of the most dangerous actions a mentor can take.”
--Rethinking feedback. Bell and Goldsmith encourage trying “feedforward” instead, making suggestions for the future and promoting the idea that the protégé can change. Proteges listen better to feedforward than they do to feedback, which they might see as criticism.
--Learning the difference, as a mentor, between supporting the protégé and rescuing him in ways that prevent him from growing. Tools for mentors include examining whether they use controlling language, come across as a “schoolmarm,” or tend to be humorless or doctrinaire.
--Helping the protégé develop into a self-directed learner—in short, moving the protégé toward independence from the mentoring relationship. Tips include using affirmations effectively and preparing for the end of the formal relationship.
Mentoring does not always take place in ideal circumstances, and a section on “special conditions” examines how to mentor when the mentor and protégé are peers, when they are so different that mentoring may present problems, or where the workplace is so fast-paced that building a relationship over time may be challenging.
A mentoring toolkit covers frequently asked questions, offers a basic outline for a “learning plan” that mentors and protégés can use to get started, provides a list of tips for both protégés and mentors, and more.

Execution Is the Strategy
By Laura Stack
Berrett-Koehler, 2014
List price: $17.95
262 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60994-968-6

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Remember the days of the three- or five-year strategic plan? The offsite planning retreats, the detailed financials, the long-term plans for the brand or the company? Those days are gone. Strategy today must be flexible and executed swiftly, according to author Laura Stack.
In Execution Is the Strategy, Stack walks readers through four steps for executing strategy efficiently and swiftly:
Leverage. Get the right people and resources to do the work. For leaders, Stack advises on using staff effectively, including tips for selecting employees, assigning duties, nurturing innovation and delegating work appropriately. A self-assessment for leaders gauges whether they are micromanagers who stifle independence. Other leadership tools include tips on communication and a list of behaviors managers should model for employees.
Environment. Culture, engagement and a positive work environment matter to execution. Stack details how to build a cooperative culture that embraces change and encourages innovation. She also looks at how to improve accountability and what to do when an employee fails and needs to be held accountable.
Alignment. Employees’ day-to-day tasks should move them toward the organization’s larger strategic goal. Readers learn about clarifying the decision-making process; defining a mission, vision and goals aligned with the bigger picture; and creating a viable strategic plan. They also learn signs of a failing project and when to let go of a project gone wrong.
Drive. Leaders, teams and employees must be able to move quickly once they have the resources, people, culture and goals in place. Stack shows how to speed up decision-making, remove obstacles, and eliminate time-wasters such as unproductive meetings and “analysis paralysis” that choke progress.

The Talent Equation
By Matt Ferguson, Lorin Hitt and Prasanna Tambe
McGraw-Hill Education, 2014
List price: $28
234 pages
ISBN  978-0-07-182712-6

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            CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson and his coauthors use their extensive study of employers and resumes to find links among education, market performance and employee tenure.
            The Talent Equation opens with discussion of why HR needs “big data,” the kind of large-scale human capital research on which the book is based. Predictive analytics can help employers make choices about locations, markets and competitive hiring practices. Big data, and careful use of it, can also help HR get a desired “seat at the table” alongside C-suite executives.
            The book examines today’s labor market and the skills gap employers and employees currently face. Topics include what the gap really means; the roles played in the gap by compensation and lack of training and education; and how employers can handle the “short-term effects of job vacancies for skilled positions.”      
            The writers delve into why people with less education struggle in today’s labor market and how earnings change by education level, college major, occupation and more. They look at education among managers, IT workers and manufacturing workers and conclude that “rising education attainment” generally benefits both careers and employers. But they also note that education alone isn’t the only measure of an employee’s value and ability and they examine how job tenure affects market performance.
            The authors also raise a red flag: Training programs for “most employers are either a) non-existent or have been downsized…or b) primarily used to train workers” only for basic on-the-job procedures. Training in the United States does not mean “We hire people and teach them new skills,” but instead, employers believe that the responsibility for skill-building belongs with would-be employees. But the authors hold that if companies aren’t finding employees with the right skill sets, the time has come for employers to start making hires and then “grooming” them as needed.
            A section on job candidates advises employers on making the job hunt more attractive. Forty-eight percent of HR managers and 74 percent of hiring managers say they do not think their companies have a definable “employment brand”—despite years of “branding” as a chief topic in management books. Employers need to do better at giving candidates a strong brand and a good experience. The book shows how negative candidate experiences end up costing employers money and how employers can use five resources to communicate their brand effectively.
            Other topics include:
            --Using technology tools for recruiting, enabling “continuous recruitment” and matching jobs to candidates.
            --Holding onto talent. The book explains why retention is HR’s top challenge, why employees say they leave, and why some employees choose to stay.
            --Using big data to identify skills shortages and their causes and how HR departments can become a “strategic consulting operation.”

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.