Books in Brief

Jun 1, 2005

HR Magazine, June 2005The Future of Human Resource Management

Edited by Mike Losey, Sue Meisinger and Dave Ulrich
Society for Human Resource Management/John Wiley & Sons, 2005
List price: $34.95, 400 pages, ISBN: 0-471-67791-4

What is the future of HR? That’s the question posed to 64 academics, consultants and senior HR practitioners in this volume of essays.

Some of the experts focused on the future of HR professionals, their roles and development, while others concentrated on “the outcomes of doing HR work,” such as HR’s engagement in public policy debate or how HR can manage culture change.

The editors—Mike Losey, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); Sue Meisinger, current president and CEO of SHRM; and Dave Ulrich, a University of Michigan professor and management education specialist—found that demographics, technology, globalization and competitiveness turn a spotlight on how well HR does its job. They also note that HR must partner with line managers, who have increasing HR responsibilities.

Among the essay topics in The Future of Human Resource Management:

  • The labor supply. Two essays present differing opinions on whether there will be a labor shortage. One author says there will be a change in the employment relationship, not a demographically driven shortage of workers. Expressing an opposing view, Losey says there will be a real labor shortage requiring improved recruitment and retention strategies as well as better understanding of why employees really leave organizations.
  • Competency development. HR professionals must keep learning the changing competencies expected of them. Essays look at how General Motors redefined its HR career path, how AT&T developed its HR professionals after major outsourcing, and how competency as both HR and business professionals is increasingly important.
  • New roles. Authors look at how HR can play new roles in organizations and processes without giving up HR’s human core. The writers re-imagine HR as a business driver, designing processes to get the most from employees, or as a “productivity czar” with a handle on the intangible assets companies need. One author offers ideas for envisioning HR as “product lines” to serve the larger business.
  • Culture change. Essays on corporate culture outline how HR led culture change at American Express, how HR can help alter employees’ fixed mind-sets and how a firm transitioned to a customer-centered culture.
  • A scientific approach. The editors advocate seeing HR as a “decision science” needing “rigorous theory and research.” Professionals can make recommendations based on data and evidence rather than on personal preferences (though the editors note that instinct will always play a positive role in HR). Authors examine “human resource accounting,” show how analysis can improve employers’ candidate selections and discuss the development of different HR practices for core and peripheral employees.

Moral Intelligence
By Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel
Wharton School Publishing, 2005
List price: $24.95, 247 pages, ISBN: 0-13-149050-8

Finding and following your morals not only is good behavior but also is good business, Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel contend. The formation of partnerships with clients depends on being “genuinely trustworthy.” Employees today expect a morally intelligent workplace, and the business costs of “moral stupidity” are high—from fines and lawsuits to jail time for leaders and punishment in the marketplace from consumers.

“This book is not about telling you what is right or wrong. And it’s not about helping you try to become a moral paragon,” the authors say. Moral Intelligence is “a roadmap for leaders to find and follow their moral compasses”—the sets of deeply held beliefs and values that drive them personally and professionally.

Individual leaders at any level need to identify their basic principles, values and beliefs. The book walks readers through the idea of universal principles, such as responsibility, compassion and justice. values are individual rather than universal and include power, security and enjoyment.

Lennick, a consultant and former American Express Financial Advisors executive, and Kiel, an executive coach and organizational consultant, look at the often complex relationships among business decisions, values and others’ perceptions. For instance, a financial shortfall leads you to fire three employees; your decision stems from your sense of responsibility to the workforce (preserving more jobs by sacrificing a few) and your loyalty to longer-term employees. But employees may believe you made the cuts to protect your own bonus or to demonstrate your power.

The book’s exercises and questionnaires let readers consider their own values, goals and behaviors.

A section on staying true to your moral compass examines how you can align beliefs with daily actions. You need moral intelligence (knowing what’s right), moral competence (the ability to do what’s right) and emotional competence (the ability to know and control your own emotions and to understand the emotions of others).

The book offers tools for managing your own destructive emotions and for defeating moral viruses—those assumptions that can skew moral compasses, such as “Most people can’t be trusted” and “Might makes right.”

Lennick and Kiel outline their four vital moral skills:

  • Integrity means acting in accord with your principles, values and beliefs. Inconsistency means a lack of integrity, as demonstrated by the CEO who preached integrity in his speeches but whose direct reports found him untrustworthy. He mishandled bonus money to boost his own bonus and ended up resigning.
  • Responsibility includes owning up to mistakes and failures, which can have real business benefits. Admitting mistakes prevents others from being wrongly blamed, helps employees see you as human and approachable, and sends “a message of tolerance” through the organization.
  • Compassion and forgiveness do not mean ignoring bad behavior or poor performance. They mean learning from your own and others’ mistakes rather than dwelling on them.
  • Emotions can cloud judgment, and the book shows how to recognize work-related emotional patterns, such as blaming others during crises, and how to learn when not to trust gut reactions.

A chapter on leading large organizations finds that “codifying the culture” with social contracts or other statements helps successful firms stay true to their morals in tough times. The authors discuss how to set core values as well as communicate and enforce them.

It’s Not What You Say...It’s What You Do
By Laurence Haughton
Doubleday, 2004
List price: $24.95, 238 pages, ISBN: 0-385-51041-1

Whatever strategic choices companies make, success depends on one thing: following through. Research that tracked 160 large companies for five years found that no matter what business strategies they used, companies with good follow-through came out winners, according to author and speaker Laurence Haughton.

In It’s Not What You Say...It’s What You Do, Haughton says you can create workplaces where strategies actually achieve results if you use four building blocks:

  • Set clear directions. Organizations need measurable definitions of success at the outset of projects and should anticipate and deal with potential conflicts between goals, Haughton says. He shows how communicating expectations to managers and employees includes cutting information into “palatable bites,” getting feedback and keeping top executives engaged.

    Communication also flows upward toward the bosses, and Haughton discusses how to negotiate expectations with superiors. Bosses, he notes, sometimes punish people for the open communication that the bosses claim they want. So he provides tips for approaching your manager, such as preparing well and avoiding antagonism.

    Clear directions also require accurate assessments of where a project truly stands. Putting assessments in writing, learning to find the real causes of current problems and getting someone else to check your assessment are steps toward honest checkups.

  • Get the right people into the right positions. Haughton says that research shows having the right people to fit an initiative’s goals doubles the likelihood of success. He says you sometimes should “hire attitudes over experience,” and he shows how to determine whether a job would rely more heavily on experience or attitudes.

    Haughton urges managers to learn employees’ career and personal goals and to consider whether to assign them to positions that achieve as close a match as possible between what they want and what the business needs. Haughton details how to glean information from employees to learn about their real expectations and goals.

  • Get buy-in. Once you have the right people and clear communication, watch out for resistance. First, launch changes with a “wow” project that has a high chance of success. Second, use the blitzkrieg tactic, following up on initial success quickly so resisters don’t have time to spread discord. Third, “create disciples from the rank and file” who can spread the good word. And fourth, take your success story straight to the top, getting the CEO’s attention.

  • Keep individual employees’ initiative high. Haughton also looks at what makes some teams hotbeds of initiative instead of pits of inertia, and he lists tips for creating such teams and managing them.

Finally, individual initiative aids follow-through because employees will want to keep a project going even when it’s no longer new. Share your purpose with employees and show more respect for them. If you ask for absolute compliance with your methods or harp on “one right way” to do things, you kill opportunities for discussion.

Haughton helps managers check their unspoken assumptions, such as whether they tend to believe that “those at the top know best.” And he urges managers to use accountability well, giving people real responsibility but also letting them know you won’t hang them out to dry if circumstances undermine them.

Aggression In The Workplace
By Marc McElhaney
AuthorHouse, 2004
List price: $29.95, 234 pages, ISBN: 1-4184-6195-4

Workplace violence costs American businesses billions of dollars every year in health and workers’ compensation claims, legal bills, security expenses, lost hours, productivity declines and more. Then there’s the human toll on employees as well as the damage to an employer’s reputation, as the U.S. Postal Service found when “going postal” became shorthand for workplace violence.

But can employers really do anything if some employees are determined to act violently? Marc McElhaney, a consulting psychologist and mediator, says workplace violence is preventable, but he cites a major obstacle to prevention. “The primary culprit here is our No.1 defense mechanism: denial and/or avoidance,” he writes.

In Aggression in the Workplace, McElhaney alerts managers and supervisors to common mistakes businesses make concerning workplace violence. He outlines prevention methods and discusses how to deal with threats, conduct firings safely, defuse angry employees and handle stalkers. The book includes a sample workplace violence policy and a questionnaire to help managers assess a person’s potential for violence.

McElhaney resists giving a simplistic profile of at-risk employees. Almost anyone can become violent under certain circumstances, he says. He describes how personality, stress, family history and specific events play roles in sparking violence. Indicators that a worker is troubled can include substance abuse, chronic grievances, a lack of self-care and fearfulness in co-workers.

A chapter on common errors employers make covers denial, avoidance, failure to document escalating problems, a tendency to dismiss behavior as “that’s just the way he or she is” and other pitfalls. McElhaney gives ideas for improving documentation, using law enforcement help judiciously, using employee assistance programs appropriately and other tips.

The book’s 10-step prevention plan includes establishing effective preemployment screening, writing a workplace violence policy and making employees aware of it, using workplace violence training programs, creating a specific policy for handling threats, and reviewing current disciplinary, grievance and firing procedures.

When firing employees, employers can use formal contracts that outline everyone’s expectations, can turn to outside support services such as counseling and can use respectful language to avoid inflaming feelings. Employers must consider the timing of the firing, must have a script prepared so they know what to say, and must have security personnel nearby if necessary or conduct the firing in a special location.

McElhaney also walks readers through how to deal with an angry employee, detailing how to acknowledge the employee’s concerns, allow the person to vent and use nonconfrontational language, among other tactics.

A chapter helps readers to identify stalking and predatory behaviors at work and to keep them from escalating.

Get Your Ship Together
By D. Michael Abrashoff
Portfolio, 2004
List price: $25.95, 200 pages, ISBN: 1-59184-074-0

A boss who took his organization from a 28 percent retention rate to a 100 percent retention rate while cutting expenditures, vastly improving operations and raising morale dramatically would be a sought-after CEO for most companies.

D. Michael Abrashoff was that boss, and the company was the U.S. Navy. The story of how Cmdr. Abrashoff turned a demoralized ship into a Navy showpiece is told in some management books. Today, Abrashoff is a leadership consultant. In Get Your Ship Together, he describes how six leaders in arenas as diverse as bakeries, defense contractors, law enforcement agencies and petroleum companies have handled challenges in ways that can apply in all kinds of businesses.

Abrashoff sees a pattern in these leaders. They “begin with...the sense that everyone is worthwhile,” he says. They are open to criticism and new ideas. These leaders concentrate on fixing problems, not assigning blame, and they focus on recognizing achievement over punishing failure.

Abrashoff spends a chapter on each leader, telling how they built ownership among employees—or among soldiers, as 1st Lt. Buddy Gengler did.

Gengler, deployed to Iraq to lead a platoon that would fire rocket launchers, suddenly found himself ordered to take his unit into quick-response street fighting. Abrashoff says that Gengler’s reaction is applicable to other tough business situations: “Call in the reserves when you need them,” as Gengler did by calling for immediate training, admitting that he and his men didn’t know enough about the rapid-response fighting his unit was expected to do.

Some of the other business lessons gleaned from others’ experiences:

  • “Good leaders care for their people, but caring includes tough love.” Trish Karter, CEO of Dancing Deer Baking Co., describes the lengths she goes to in keeping employees happy and fostering teamwork. But she notes that she doesn’t let her personal interest in her employees affect her judgment of their skills.
  • “Go fish.” When recruiting, Roger Valine, CEO of Vision Service Plan, looks for self-starters, candidates who ask specific questions and, he adds, candidates with whom he could spend 48 hours alone on a fishing trip without wanting to leap off the boat. Essentially, Valine wants to know if the candidate can establish a good relationship quickly. Abrashoff notes that in different businesses, you might need different criteria, but you need to set some criterion for the kind of person who best fits your workplace.
  • “Trust the crew to run the ship.” Calling this “the most important leadership advice I can give you,” Abrashoff says leaders need to free people to take responsibility for their jobs. He recounts how Navy Capt. Al Collins told his enlisted men to run the ship themselves, without his setting deadlines or micromanaging.
  • “Bust a gut to redeem misfits.” Laura Folse, a vice president for oil giant BP, says that while managers can’t gloss over employees’ failings, they can try to get them back on track. By being specific about performance problems while approaching the employee with “love and care,” managers may turn problem employees into performers, Folse says.

The Enthusiastic Employee
By David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind and Michael Irwin Meltzer
Wharton School Publishing, 2005
List price: $26.95, 363 pages, ISBN: 0-13-142330-4

Find out what employees want and give it to them. The result will be enthusiastic employees who pitch in when times are tough and who can bring business success. True enthusiasm is not “just a feeling or an attitude; it is a motivated state, impelling people to action.”

The Enthusiastic Employee is based on employee attitude surveys, interviews and case studies covering 2.5 million employees in 237 companies. The authors, all consultants with academic, research, HR or legal backgrounds, say their research shows that employees—of any generation, in any occupation, anywhere—want three basic things: equality, achievement and camaraderie.

Where employees differ is in what will satisfy those needs for them. The book offers practices and policies for meeting the three basic needs in a variety of ways.

Equality. Workforces that don’t feel secure experience brain drain, have lower performance and endure more labor/management conflict. Today’s belief that newer workers don’t expect job security and will move among employers readily doesn’t account for what happens when a whole job field slows down and there aren’t any employers to which they can jump, the authors note.

Highly successful employers avoid or minimize layoffs. The prescription: Exhaust all alternatives first, ask for volunteers if you can (and give them incentives), communicate honestly and fully, and recognize and minimize the impact on layoff survivors.

Pay is “vital” to employee enthusiasm, and good pay lowers turnover, draws better applicants and raises morale. Strategies for effective compensation include using both base and variable pay and basing that variable pay on group, rather than individual, performance. The authors also examine employee stock ownership, profit sharing, gain sharing and the differences among them.

Respect, “the treatment of people as unique and important,” is another key ingredient in increasing enthusiasm. Some “specifics of respectful treatment” include considering physical working conditions, expressing job rules positively as guidelines rather than orders and communicating well.

Achievement. Setting organizational purposes and principles fosters employee pride. The book identifies common problems with corporate vision or mission statements, and provides examples of excellent statements from well-known companies.

Letting workers get on with their work, rather than burdening them with bureaucracy, also builds achievement. The authors show how both autocratic and laissez-faire management styles throw roadblocks in employees’ ways. The authors advocate a participatory management style with flatter organizations and self-managed teams. Employers should look at how work is organized and whether employees truly get to use their skills and do significant work.

The book provides “a short course on giving guidance” as a way to improve feedback, recognition and rewards. Specific tips include ideas for encouraging ongoing feedback and providing quick, effective recognition.

Camaraderie. Employees generally want to work collaboratively, “up, down and across” the organization. The authors outline strategies to reduce conflicts and a plan for holding “partnership workshops” to build better workplace partnerships.

The book’s final section lays out how to turn theories about partnership into practice, and includes a sample partnership action plan from a real firm and a self-assessment test for readers to determine their own attitudes toward employees.

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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