Books in Brief

Investing in People; The Handbook of Competency Mapping; Salsa, Soul and Spirit; Giving Notice; HR Competencies

Feb 1, 2008
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HR Magazine, February 2008Investing in People
By Wayne Cascio and John Boudreau
Financial Times Press, 2008
List price: $39.99, 308 pages
ISBN: 0-13-239411-1

CEOs often ask HR professionals to take action in certain situations: "Our total employment costs are high, so lay off workers and spread the pain around fairly--cut 10 percent of the staff in each unit." Or, "Are there really connections between work/life balance and employee productivity? Prove it: Measure and track how work/life programs benefit the company, in dollars."

But "spreading the pain" may be a bad business decision, and finding correlations between work/life programs and productivity may be tough. In situations such as these, HR needs to do more than just evaluate the performance of HR programs and practices; HR should measure those programs to improve decision-making.

In Investing in People, authors Wayne Cascio and John Boudreau say HR measurement has come a long way, with many business leaders now being held accountable for HR measures such as raising employee engagement ratings or reducing turnover. But the authors want HR to start making a difference not just in individual managers' accountability but in broader change to the whole organization. The book teaches fundamentals of HR measurement and devotes chapters to specific topics, including:

  • The hidden costs of absenteeism. A detailed outline walks readers through calculations to figure costs of supervisory time spent managing absences, costs of substitute employees, costs of reduced quantity or quality of work, and more.

  • The costs of employee separations. Learn to compute turnover rates and separation costs, right down to specifics such as the cost of a single exit interview or HR's administrative cost for processing an employee's departure. Calculate the costs of replacing an employee, including the costs of staff meetings to discuss new hires, travel and moving expenses, medical examinations, training, and more.

  • Measuring employee attitudes and engagement. The authors teach a "behavior-costing approach" that assumes that measures of employee attitudes are indicators of later behaviors that affect productivity and the bottom line.

  • The monetary value of HR programs. Four chapters cover calculating the monetary value of HR programs, including the payoff from improved staffing and the cash value of training and development.

  • The costs of HR programs. Other lessons define and calculate the costs of employee health, wellness and welfare programs; the impact of work/life programs; and more.

There are exercises for each subject. Software, developed with support from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), helps readers try out the book's calculations more easily. That software—which is available to both SHRM members and nonmembers at—works for any currency, making it useful for multinational organizations.

The Handbook of Competency Mapping
By Seema Sanghi
Response Books, 2007
List price: $29.95, 227 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7619-3598-8

How do you hire people who will really succeed? How do you avoid falling for a strong-looking resume or impressive interview that may mask a candidate who won't fit the job?

Author Seema Sanghi says the answer is competency-based selection. If you know the job competencies needed for a position, you have the whole picture of what it takes to perform a job. And knowing what competencies are needed can improve training, succession planning, performance management and other initiatives, she adds.

With a strong emphasis on HR roles and HR strategies, The Handbook of Competency Mapping aims to help organizations determine what competencies their employees need for the future.

Starting with a look at what competencies are and aren't--and breaking down myths such as the idea that performance management is the same as managing competencies--the book offers models, sample audits and other tools for HR.

Sanghi, director of the FORE School of Management in New Delhi, looks at how competency models "describe the combination of knowledge, skills and experience needed to effectively perform a role," and she details how different types of personal attributes, abilities, knowledge and skills together form competencies.

The book explores issues related to developing useful competency models, including how to measure success in a role, whether to measure once or continually, deciding who will be assessed and by whom, and more. Sanghi looks at using competency assessments to fill jobs and covers ways to rate competencies numerically, questions to ask candidates in job interviews and more.

Advice on creating a competency framework offers sources of information on needed competencies for a job, ideas for documenting positions and processes, ways to use existing documentation, and detailed job interview steps to help determine whether a candidate fits the competencies a job requires.

Readers learn to adapt existing competency models when they can't build their own models from scratch. Examples, charts, forms and ready-to-use templates help readers plug into existing models.

Sanghi explains how to use "assessment centers" that combine different tools to assess competencies and make decisions about people, getting the "best possible indication of people's current or potential competence" for a target job.

The handbook also tells readers how to overcome organizational resistance to competency models by identifying relevant stakeholders, anticipating why they might not support competency models and advocating for competency models effectively.

Salsa, Soul and Spirit

By Juana Bordas
Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., 2007
List price: $17.95, 226 pages
ISBN: 1-57675-432-4

If you want your organization to succeed, try borrowing leadership techniques from multicultural sources--from the African American concept of sankofa, or learning from the past, to the Latino value of gracias, or incorporating gratitude and hope.

Author Juana Bordas explains how ideas from African American, American Indian and Latino cultures can enrich any workplace, even those without a broadly diverse workforce. Multicultural leadership uses the values and practices of diverse cultures and "encourages diverse people to actively engage, contribute and tap their potential," writes Bordas.

Salsa, Soul and Spirit presents eight principles of multicultural leadership. For each one, Bordas provides "next steps" that prompt readers to put the ideas into action. Among the principles:

  • Sankofa.Learning from the past is vital to multicultural leadership, Bordas says, and managers should seek out and learn from people with different takes on history.
  • "I to we." The individualistic culture that dominates today doesn't leave room for a collective identity. The book guides readers on creating a collective history for their organization, to build common ground and mutual understanding.
  • Mi casa es su casa. The idea that "my house is your house" sparks generosity. Sharing resources, helping those in need and taking care of others benefit both parties and are survival tactics. Generous leaders need to examine the impact their actions will have on future generations, including the future leaders of their organizations.
  • A leader among equals. Leaders of communities of color tend to be collectively recognized by the community, rather than grab hold of leadership. Leaders are "expected to remain part of the group" while at the same time taking charge.
  • All my relatives. The book examines how many cultures emphasize the "kinship of community" and the idea that people are all related. Relationships always carry responsibility, Bordas says, and leaders need to revive their sense of responsibility to those around them.

A call to action urges leaders to eliminate the "hierarchical pluralism" in which diverse people are included in the organization but must assimilate and practice certain behaviors that come from the dominant--namely, white--culture. Bordas covers ways to take apart this false pluralism and replace it with true pluralism that embraces the values and behaviors of different cultures.

Giving Notice
By Freada Kapor Klein
Jossey-Bass, 2007
List price: $27.95, 219 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7879-9809-7

Author Freada Kapor Klein's own Level Playing Field Institute says more than 2 million professionals and managers leave their jobs annually "solely due to unfair treatment." The cost of replacing those employees is $64 billion a year, according to Klein. The unfair treatment here isn't headline-grabbing, lawsuit-prompting bias, but rather hidden bias--which costs employers dearly.

Writing for a broad target audience including HR professionals, CEOs, career coaches and job seekers, Klein examines how "hidden biases can become hidden barriers." For instance, people experiencing hidden bias might not get shown the ropes as readily as others, or might not receive timely feedback so they know what to do differently in the future. They might not be invited out for socializing after work, or might find themselves always identified by their "group" rather than by their other traits, interests or abilities.

Throughout Giving Notice, Klein weaves the stories of three composite characters--a gay black man, a white woman and a Latino man. The Latino man, a technology expert, ends up being asked to work with Spanish-speaking clients although he doesn't speak Spanish. The gay man remains closeted amid a culture where the men engage in locker room talk and exchange stories about dating women. The woman spends valuable meeting time making photocopies or getting coffee at the request of men in the room.

The book looks at how CEOs can establish a top-to-bottom culture that truly practices diversity, rather than simply playing "the diversity game" in which they use slogans and community events to appear to embrace diversity--but really don't.

The costs of bias are high, Klein writes. Job stress may cost organizations $300 billion per year, while turnover driven by bias costs companies not only in dollars but also in damaged reputations and trouble recruiting.

Klein advises on how to "dismantle barriers from the inside." She guides readers in identifying and dismantling stereotypes they may not realize they use. She looks at how focus groups, employee surveys and systems audits can help uncover hidden bias.

The book shows how to structure policies that govern inappropriate behavior, how to set up complaint channels, and how to ensure that diversity or harassment training is effective. Readers also learn signs of possible hidden bias in assignments, mentoring, and organizational culture and climate. A section on global issues describes experiences of international employees who left jobs due to bias.

One appendix examines how resumes can trigger the hidden biases of those who read them. Another appendix delves into the calculations used to figure the dollar costs of bias.

HR Competencies
By Dave Ulrich, Wayne Brockbank, Dani Johnson, Kurt Sandholtz and Jon Younger
Society for Human Resource Management and RBL Institute, 2008
List price: $22.95, 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5864-4113-5

Buy the Book:
This book can be purchased through the SHRMStore online. Members receive a discount off the list price. Visit (item #61.15006).

Written by some of the biggest names in HR, this is not a book for the uninitiated and not something you can skim through. HR Competencies is based on an abundance of data from years of research and includes lots of graphs, figures, charts and appendices to help readers delve into the material. The book covers six competencies:

  • Credible Activist.
  • Culture & Change Steward.
  • Talent Manager/Organization Designer.
  • Strategy Architect.
  • Operational Executor.
  • Business Ally. In knowledge and service economies, organization and people issues become crucial to long-term success, which means HR professionals who have the necessary competencies to effectively manage organization and people issues will help their organizations succeed.

What makes a successful HR professional? Which HR competencies have the most impact on the performance of the HR professional? How do HR competencies affect business performance? How much do HR departments affect business vs. individuals who work in HR? This comprehensive and empirical book, which explores these questions and more, presents research and findings in a way that will inform the HR professional and guide the HR profession. Author Dave Ulrich and his team set forth—with clarity and evidence—the knowledge, skills and values that successful HR professionals demonstrate in all types of positions, companies and geographies. In doing so, the authors identify the areas in which HR professionals need to be more than good—they should be great.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va., and SHRM Editorial Coordinator Nicole Gauvin.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

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