Editor's Note: What are our writers and experts reading? In this series, ReWork contributors share their"must-read" recommendations for HR professionals and business leaders.
I read lots of business books, but anyone who has followed my writing knows I'm not terribly fond of popular business books; they simplify things too much. When organizations try to follow these books' recipes, they fail because they don't understand the underlying human concepts of organizational behavior.
So, my reading list contains books that discuss original research into organizational behavior, specifically dealing with concepts most important to HR leaders: consulting, leadership and teams.
Check out the first half of the list to find books that are easy to read and digest, and provide good information that is immediately useful and a little outside the norm for HR practitioners. Skip down to number five if you are looking for the most powerful—but more complex—books I have ever read.
1) Flawless Consulting by Peter Block
Everyone is a consultant at some point, HR even more so. Block's chapter on dealing with resistance is powerful both in recognizing what resistance looks like, and then offering a simple method to diffuse it.
2) Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy Edmundson
I started following Dr. Edmundson, a professor at Harvard Business School, when I was studying the concept of psychological safety and why smart people don't speak up even in a crisis. This single concept—psychological safety—gives HR practitioners a practical background in team behavior, and in turning problems into learning opportunities.
3) The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers by Gillian Tett
Gillian Tett is an anthropologist turned business journalist who uses her study of culture to help organizations bust silos and improve performance. HR can and should be a connector. This book provides research-based arguments for why silos are counter-productive.
4) Repurposing HR: From a Cost Center to a Business Accelerator by Carol Anderson
Full disclosure, this is my own book. I got tired of books about HR competencies that didn't provide practical "how to" advice for becoming strategic, so I wrote one. This book is helpful to HR teams that want to break down barriers, think collectively and add significant value to their organizations.
As I mentioned earlier, the second half of this list contains the most powerful books I have read. They aren't necessarily easy to read and digest, but they are so worth the time. These books help put into perspective the challenges and hopes of human resource development.
5) Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein
MIT professor Schein is the father of organizational culture. Culture is a hot topic today, and this provides outstanding insight, grounded in research.
6) Organization Change by Warner Burke
One of the most comprehensive and common sense models of organizational change. As an HR practitioner, I was frustrated by the number of external vendors that sell "change processes"—from Six Sigma to technology implementation to quality improvement. Their processes were good, but often not aligned with existing HR processes such as performance management. If you want to compete with the various "change agents" that tell organizations how to "change" (and you should) you have to understand change at its deepest level.
7) Leadership and the New Science by Meg Wheatley
Wheatley describes how complex systems like organizations must be allowed to develop, rather than be controlled. The book offers solid ideas about how effective leaders can and should let go.
I hope you find these helpful. I would love to hear stories about what you read and how it helped you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Header photo: Twenty20