HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Reinventing HR : A book review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Reinventing HR
HBR Editors and Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (June 2019)

How to take a management approach that drives employee engagement and high performance

This is one in a series of volumes that anthologize what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance reinventing HR. Each of the selections is eminently deserving of inclusion. If all of the eleven articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be almost $100 and the practical value of any one of them far exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon US now sells this volume for only $17.09, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as HBR Guide to…, Harvard Business Review on…, and Harvard Business Essentials. I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume.

In all of the volumes in the HBR 10 Must Read series that I have read thus far, the authors and their HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources), and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later of key material.

As indicated, there are eleven articles in the book, including one “bonus” classic: “People Before Strategy” by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, and Dennis Carey. Those who read HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Reinventing HR will be well prepared to “partner with the C-suite, drive change throughout the organization, and develop the workforce of the future.”

More specifically, they will learn how to

o Overhaul performance management practices to jump-start motivation an engagement
o Use agile processes to transform how they hire, develop, and manage people
o Establish diversity programs that increase innovation and competitiveness as well as inclusion
o Use people analytics to bring unprecedented insight to hiring and talent management
o Prepare their company for the double waves of artificial intelligence and an older workforce
o Close the gap between HR and strategy

Here are three brief excerpts, shared to give you a sense of the thrust and flavor of the cutting-edge thinking in three articles.

First, in aforementioned “People Before Strategy,” Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, and Dennis Carey observe:

“CEOs know that they depend on their company’s human resources to achieve success. Businesses don ‘t create value; people do. But if you peel back the layers at the vast majority of companies, you find CEOs who are distracted from and often dissatisfied with with their chief human resources officers (CHROs) and the HR function in general. Research by McKinsey and the Conference Board consistently finds that CEOs worldwide see human capital as a top challenge, and they rank HR as only the eighth or ninth most important function in a company. That has to change.”

They explain how and why specific changes must be made.

* * *

Then in “Better People Analytics, “Paul Leonardi and Noshir Contractor present a framework for understanding and applying relational analytics. “Drawing from our own research and our consulting work with companies, as well as from a large body of other scholars’ research, we have identified six structural signatures that should form the bedrock of any relational analytics strategy.” They are: Ideation, Influence, Efficiency,  Innovation, Silos, and Vulnerability. They discuss each thoroughly.

“Once you understand the six structural signatures that form the basis of relational analytics, it’s relatively easy to to act on the insights they provide. Often the fixes they suggest aren’t complex: Set up cross-functional meetings, enable influential people, retain your [key people].”

* * *

And then in “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones suggest how to establish what they characterize as “the workplace of your dreams,” one that really is the best if (HUGE “if”) it is most appropriate to the given organization’s core values and strategic objectives.

“What workers need is a sense of moral authority, derived not from a focus on the efficiency of means but from the importance of the ends they produce. The organization of your dreams gives you powerful reasons to submit to the necessary structures that support the organization’s purpose.”

Keep in mind: “People want to do good work. — to feel they matter in an organization that makes a difference. They want to work in a place that magnifies their strengths, not their weaknesses. For that, they need some autonomy and structure, and the organization [at all levels and in all areas] must be coherent, honest, and open.”

* * *

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the scoped and depth of valuable information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume. I full agree with the HBR Editors: “If you read nothing else on reinventing HR, read these definitive articles from the Harvard Business Review.”

I presume to add two points of my own. First, there are no employee engagement, performance management, or talent retention issues. Rather, ultimately, there are only [begin italics] business [end italics] issues. Also, it is very important to think in terms of enterprise architecture as your organization’s primary strategy when reinventing how to accelerate personal growth and professional development.


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