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A People Manager's Guide to Holiday Reading

Business books that we've found to be delighting, surprising, enlightening or otherwise captivating.

​Business books that had been scheduled to be published earlier this year but were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now being released at a head-spinning pace, making it even more challenging to sort the wheat from the chaff in this bumper crop of new titles.

With so many books competing for your precious reading time, it's easy to miss the standouts that may have flown under the radar. That's why we've compiled a list of recent favorites that we've found to be delighting, surprising, enlightening or otherwise captivating.

Peek 10 years into the future or see how you'd perform as a battlefield leader. But bring a healthy dose of skepticism. It will help you make better decisions. And with humor as your secret weapon, there's no doubt you'll be able to solve any problem.

Perhaps now is the time to make that career change. Or maybe you want to make the right hires and have better performance conversations. Regardless, the books below will cover your interests and needs.

"Books are good company, in sad times and happy times," said E.B. White, a writer for all ages and eras.

In a year with plenty of both, find time to curl up in a cozy spot with one or two of these standout business titles and take heart in Mr. White's closing testimony on the durable comfort of books: "For books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book."

Happy Holidays and read on!


2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything (St. Martin's Press, 2020)

Researcher, teacher and one of the world's foremost experts on global trends Mauro F. Guillén gets your attention straightaway in 2030, his new book about the future: "Simply put, the world as we know it today will be gone by 2030." By employing a kind of "peripheral vision," he offers a pioneering analysis on how today's biggest trends will reshape the future of, well, everything, and includes an analysis on how the COVID-19 pandemic will amplify and accelerate each of these changes. The future might not be what it used to be, but along with an abundance of information and insights to help readers see a bigger picture beyond so many moving parts, Guillén offers a message of optimism about what lies ahead amid the many anxieties of the present.

Nine Lies About Work

Battle Tested: Gettysburg Leadership Lessons for 21st Century Leaders (Post Hill Press, 2020)

Leadership lessons from the epic Battle of Gettysburg are brought to life in this hard-to-put-down venture. A leadership expert/military historian coauthor team take readers around the battlefield over the epic three-day struggle and ask them to make specific decisions about situations Union and Confederate leaders faced during the battle. The book is full of serious history, but it's also a bit like those childhood "choose your own adventure" activities, in which readers make situation-based decisions and the authors reveal consequences to illuminate what great leadership really is.

Dare to Lead

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World (Random House, 2020)

The authors of Calling Bullshit are on a mission to give people the insights and tools needed so that they don't get fooled by the onslaught of misleading information. Drawing on a deep well of expertise in statistics and computational biology, the biologist/researcher team of Bergstrom and West unpack examples of selection bias; reveal basic fallacies, muddled data visualization, and how to distinguish between correlation and causation; and highlight the susceptibility of science to modern BS. Well-written and relatable throughout, the authors expertly attest to both the urgency and science of skepticism.

Atomic Habits

Clocking Out: A Stress-Free Guide to Career Transitions (Society for Human Resource Management (2021)

What would you do if you permanently clocked out of your job, or if you woke up tomorrow morning and your company asked you to clock out of your job without warning? Every human throughout his or her personal and professional life will experience some adversity, unexpected change, new opportunity or simply a fork in the road, says author Raymond Lee. The question is, "What choice will you make when faced with any of these situations?" With remarkable, relatable stories, Lee shows readers how to assess and consolidate individual power to make thoughtful, meaningful changes and choices for a successful transition, and brings to life through real-world stories the four key principles of effective career transitions: choice, mindset, agility and trust.

Measure What Matters

Hire Right, Fire Right: A Leader's Guide to Finding and Keeping Your Best People (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020)

Hire Right, Fire Right elegantly guides decision-makers through key interactions with new and current employees, arming leaders with a powerful set of tangible tools to help ensure that their organizations are well-equipped to take on talent management challenges—and win. Follow Roxi Bahar Hewertson's systems of hiring, developing and terminating employees to dramatically increase hiring success rates of the right people for the right jobs; measurably boost employee retention rates; and significantly lower the risk of lawsuits, arbitrations and damage to your organization's reputation if things end badly.


How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices (Portfolio, 2020)

In her terrific follow-up to Thinking in Bets (Portfolio, 2018), poker pro and master storyteller Annie Duke delivers an outstanding and eminently practical guide to decision-making. Through a variety of interactive exercises, Duke helps readers analyze past key decisions and troubleshoots future decisions. In addition to helping you combat common biases to which we are all prone, Duke teaches readers how to guard against "resulting"—a poker term for creating too tight of a relationship between the quality of the outcome and the quality of the decision, which leads to regret and future bad decisions. By reading this book, you will learn not only how to approach important choices you have to make, but also how to continue making better decisions.

Humor Seriously_163x250.png

Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.) (Currency, 2021)

Based on the authors' popular course "Humor: Serious Business" at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and drawing on findings by behavioral scientists, world-class comedians and business leaders, this book demystifies the theory and application of humor to show readers what makes something funny and how to mine your life for material. They also show how to use humor to make a strong first impression, deliver difficult feedback, persuade and motivate others, and foster cultures where levity and creativity can thrive—not to mention how to keep it appropriate and how to recover if you cross a line. Humor, Seriously not only makes the scientific case for the importance of humor, it shows how it can be a powerful tool to connect with customers and build culture.

The Surprising Science of Meetings

Performance Conversations: Using Questions to Coach Employees, Improve Productivity and Boost Confidence (Without Appraisals!) (Society for Human Resource Management, 2020)

There are three universal truths about traditional performance management. They are widely used, universally despised and well-known to be ineffective. As a result, many organizations are grappling with what to do instead. Author Christopher D. Lee's approach is built upon a sound theoretical foundation, uses proven management techniques, and offers a novel framework and tool for managers for regulating and enhancing the performance of their staff. Dozens of ready-to-use templates and accompanying tools help make good management practice more accessible, practical and effective. Just as important, the new approach is both Millennial- and remote worker-friendly as it incorporates features that speak to how these groups work.

Back to Human

What's Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020)

Sometimes the biggest problem is knowing what the problem is. Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, an expert on innovation and problem-solving, helps readers appreciate the blind spots that get in the way of knowing the right problem, and then shows how to solve it. Regardless of the problem you're facing, this visually engaging, delightfully written and well-researched book offers readers a smart process to dig deeper to identify the real problem and the tools to reframe it with new perspectives to resolve it.

Matt Davis manages the SHRM Book Publishing program.

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