Books in Brief

Apr 1, 2005
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HR Magazine, April 2005Quick! Show Me Your value
By Theresa Seagraves,
Society for Human Resource Management and ASTD Press, 2004
List price: $36.95, 246 pages
ISBN: 1-56286-365-7

This step-by-step handbook, with an accompanying CD-ROM, is written for trainers but can help any HR professional. Author Theresa Seagraves shows how to determine the dollar value of your work and then communicate that value to audiences all along the corporate ladder, from the line manager who wants to know what your program does for him today to the CEO who wants to know what HR will contribute over the next few years.

Seagraves, a consultant specializing in value communication, notes up front that most HR professionals didn’t go into HR because they loved numbers. A “fear of finance” afflicts many in the profession, she says. But executives today expect HR practitioners to have a financial perspective on their work and to make the business case for HR programs, she notes. With examples, exercises, worksheets and forms, Quick! Show Me Your value gives HR professionals tools to express their work in hard numbers.

The book first helps readers define the audiences to whom they want to communicate their value, such as chief financial officers, vice presidents and line managers. Then HR professionals have to research financial information and find out what those audiences truly value.

Seagraves takes readers through examples of how HR’s services connect to the organization’s bottom line. She also delves into the assumptions that other parts of an organization may have about HR—the things HR does that get taken for granted and the things HR does that “would delight your audience if they only knew about them.” She offers a model for decoding assumptions about HR’s value.

A “financial imperatives scorecard” lets readers connect their value with their audiences’ immediate needs. One chapter demonstrates how to evaluate results in ways that will speak to each level of your audience. Seagraves also shows how to put information into an accessible format that audiences can use and how to craft a 30-second value statement to get your audience’s attention.

The book also helps readers understand the business life cycles that drive executives. Readers can create quarterly plans that forecast what their varied audiences will need over time.

Seagraves provides chapter summaries, summaries of key concepts, case studies for each concept and links to a web site with downloadable versions of exercises.

Executive Coaching
By Anna Marie Valerio and Robert J. Lee Pfeiffer, 2005
List price: $40, 222 pages
ISBN: 0-7879-7301-7

Aimed squarely at HR professionals, Executive Coaching helps readers decide whether executive coaching is needed in the first place—and, if it’s warranted, how to make that coaching successful for both the executive and the employer.

Anna Marie Valerio, president of executive coaching firm Executive Leadership Strategies LLC, and Robert J. Lee, an independent management consultant and coach, show how HR can select executive coaches, help establish and monitor the coach-client relationship, support coaching, and evaluate its outcomes.

Valerio and Lee present case studies written by executives who assess their experiences as clients of coaching. Readers can copy and use the book’s reproducible resources and forms, including a sample agreement for coaching services, a sample progress report and a “to-do list” for HR professionals who manage coaching resources. The book includes an “executive breakaway section” that HR professionals can hand to busy executives to help them understand what to expect from coaching.

The book helps HR professionals determine when coaching is and is not appropriate. For example, coaching can work when clients have high potential, their performance is key to the organization, or they are dominant personalities who need to develop softer skills (or less assertive people who need to improve at making tough decisions).

But coaching isn’t appropriate if the potential client is on the way out the door, is in the wrong job, has significant personal problems or is resistant to being coached.

Selecting a coach involves getting references, asking the right questions about education and experience, knowing what certifications coaches should have and selecting coaches with backgrounds in specific areas such as ethics or diversity if that’s what the clients need.

The book lists skills and competencies to shop for in a coach. It also outlines characteristics that should make you say no to a coach, such as a rigid “my way or the highway” style or a coaching schedule so overloaded that your company won’t get enough of the coach’s time.

HR needs to coordinate formal steps in the coaching process, from writing contracts to assessing progress with tools such as interviews, tests and 360-degree feedback. The book walks HR through these steps and discusses ways to evaluate coaching’s success.

Valerio and Lee detail various participants’ roles in coaching, starting with the HR professional’s roles in managing a coaching program and supporting the coaching relationships. HR has to connect coaching to larger professional development programs, develop a pool of different coaches for different needs and create criteria to help determine when coaching is needed.

Clients—the executives who receive coaching—have an active role, taking responsibility for goals and actions and committing time to the relationship. HR needs to recognize the stresses that clients may feel at the outset of coaching, while clients owe HR and their bosses real feedback on how the coaching is going. Clients’ bosses have roles, too, conveying to clients why coaching is needed and helping identify performance expectations.

The book also advises on special coaching topics, such as assimilation coaching, which helps executives adjust to new organizations; coaching on multicultural issues, such as when an executive is going on an international assignment; and how to select coaches for a diverse client base.

Deep Smarts
By Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap
Harvard Business School Press, 2005
List price: $29.95, 304 pages
ISBN: 1-59139-528-3

What are deep smarts? They’re vital business assets, yet they’re hard to inventory because they’re inside employees’ minds, according to authors Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap. Deep smarts are “a potent form of expertise based on first-hand life experiences.” Such expertise lets those who possess it see patterns readily and make decisions swiftly because they understand both the big picture and the details.

Deep Smarts is aimed at both general and functional managers. Leonard, professor of business administration emerita at Harvard Business School, and Swap, a former professor of psychology at Tufts University, studied novice managers at startup firms and more-experienced ones in established companies. The book profiles differences in the ways that the two types of managers make decisions.

Experts do think differently from novices, the authors say, adding that what appears to be experts’ “intuition” is really their ability to recognize patterns quickly. Anyone trying to build deep smarts needs to “build receptors,” or become open to experiences so they’re not simply taking in information.

To become experts, most people need at least 10 years of study and practice. Experts are those who can look at hypothetical alternatives and extrapolate what would happen under various circumstances.

One example: The three young founders of a new technology firm wanted to customize their technology for use by another startup, but their two experienced advisers said no. The founders saw the short-term gains of an alliance with another startup, but the advisers maintained that such an arrangement would only bring additional business risk. So the new tech firm teamed instead with an established company.

Deep smarts and expertise have limits, however, the authors warn. Expertise can be undermined by overconfidence, adherence to pet theories or the difficulty of creating rules that express what was learned unconsciously through experience.

Leonard and Swap discuss “assembling” deep smarts by pulling together people with different experiences and expertise. They also show how “knowledge coaching” passes along some of the benefits of experience. Unlike career coaching, which helps the protege learn to navigate company politics and structures, knowledge coaching deals with how to get work done.

The book examines the attributes of knowledge coaches and how to match coaches with proteges, and it outlines knowledge-coaching techniques such as storytelling, questioning and—most powerful of the various ways to transfer deep smarts—direct, guided experience.

Guided experience lets participants recreate wisdom that can be gained only through experience. Examples show how guided experiences, from observing meetings to helping solve specific problems, build valuable connections in the proteges’ minds—provided their coaches follow these experiences with detailed reflection on what was learned. In every chapter, the authors provide an “implications for managers” section and a summary of chief points.

Top Down
By Harold J. Leavitt
Harvard Business School Press, 2005
List price: $29.95, 189 pages
ISBN: 1-59139-498-8

Organizational hierarchies have gone the way of the dinosaurs, many business gurus say. Not quite, say other management-trend watchers, who maintain that some hierarchies are still around but do indeed face extinction as they are replaced by agile working groups or flattened organizations.

Harold J. Leavitt, emeritus professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, says those experts are wrong. He maintains that traditional top-down hierarchies are here to stay and managers need to learn how to work within them.

Calling Top Down a “reality check” for those who think hierarchies are dead, Leavitt delves into why companies let hierarchies persist and how managers, especially the middle managers sandwiched inside hierarchies, can both manage and lead the organizations they’re really in—not the organizations that management authors would like them to be in.

People don’t like hierarchies because they contradict our egalitarian ideals, and, more concretely, are often inefficient and foster greed and corruption, Leavitt says. But hierarchies also give people ways to define themselves, provide clearly outlined career ladders, impart a sense of stability and set up rules for everyone to play by.

So hierarchies persist. Over the past 50 years, “humanizers” out to make organizations more responsive to employees and their personal fulfillment have clashed with “systematizers” bent on rigorous, bottom-line-driven management that viewed people as organizational resources.

Leavitt recounts these conflicts and looks at how the participatory management of the 1950s, both “humane and productive,” was followed by hierarchy-friendly analytic management based on numbers and finally by a “just do it” style in which groups flouting all ideas of hierarchy thrived in the recent technology booms. But as companies such as technology startups mature and begin organizing themselves, they turn to hierarchical models.

Caught between the false belief that organizations are democratic and the real drive to get things done, middle managers are “squeezed,” Leavitt says. They have authority but don’t want to appear authoritarian. Urged to be leaders, they find that leadership—so broadly and vaguely defined—means whatever anyone wants it to mean. The book gives managers a simple, three-part model of a managing and leading process that managers can use to succeed in hierarchies.

The first part, path finding, involves “fuzzy but critical” ideas of vision, values and the personal direction of the individual manager. The second is problem-solving, which is about using planning and logic to make decisions—and following the hierarchy’s chain of command to get things done. Third is implementing the actions that managers take.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va. Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

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