Collaboration Is Key at Chronicle Books

By Patrick Mirza Jul 1, 2005

HR Magazine, July 2005#16 Small Company

Collaboration Is Key at Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books appears to revel in creating transparent pro-cesses, in sharing information with employees, and in asking for their input and suggestions.

At the heart of this San Francisco company is an inclusive book development process that welcomes input from employees and stands in stark contrast to the rigid approval mechanisms at many publishing houses.

At Chronicle, any employee can suggest a book idea, and all are welcome to attend meetings in which book ideas are hashed out. Even if their ideas are not met with resounding approval, employees can take them to the Editorial Board Meeting, where final decisions are made on which books to publish. This meeting is open to all, giving employees a chance to understand the decision-making process and the rationale for publishing any given book.

Yolanda Accinelli, a book production associate, has been with the company only six months but has already attended an Editorial Board Meeting, which helped her see how the company operates—and how she fits into it. “You get to see how the whole company functions,” says Accinelli. “They keep you informed; they give you feedback.”

They also listen—a message Accinelli has already heard loud and clear. “It’s a very creative environment,” she says, “so people are always—it seems to me—happy to hear what you have to say.”

Lisa Campbell is living proof of Chronicle’s willingness to listen to workers. Campbell, who joined the company six years ago as a sales assistant, suggested a variation on an existing book; her idea made it into print.

“The fact that a sales assistant was saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we try this?’ and they looked at that just as seriously as any other idea, I think, is one of the things that’s great about Chronicle,” she says.

In fact, Campbell—who has since changed departments, been promoted twice and now works as an associate editor—sees Chronicle’s open process as key to the business.

“Chronicle is unique in the sense that we originate so many more of our books than other publishers,” she says. And Chronicle’s culture, she adds, fosters creativity and communication that leads to great books. “People here really aren’t afraid to show their personalities,” she says. “It’s from those personal passions and interests that come a lot of our good ideas and products.”

Jay Schaefer, editorial director, literature, who has been with the company for 17 years, agrees that Chronicle develops more books internally than most publishers, and says that doing so benefits both employees and the company.

“It really supports the creative outlets of the staff,” he says, “but it also keeps you competitively ahead in the marketplace for books. If you’re going, as a publisher, to buy ideas from somebody else, that person can sell his next idea to a different publisher. So your supply line is very vulnerable if you are buying from the outside” exclusively.

Chronicle’s open, engaging atmosphere helps in other forms of competition as well—such as the battle to retain talent. Since 1998, average tenure has grown from 3 to 5 years, says HR manager Joanie Pacheco-Anderson.

One reason for the upsurge is that many employees—such as Campbell—have taken advantage of opportunities to grow into new positions.

But the friendly, engaging culture also plays a key role. When asked why she isn’t among the few who have left the company, Campbell replies with a laugh: “I was having such a good time it never occurred to me to look.”

—Patrick Mirza


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